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Latest News - February 2013

February 14, 2013
CenturyLink union moves closer to strike as negotiations on new labor deal drag
Source: The Denver Post
By: Andy Vuong

The union representing 13,000 CenturyLink employees moved closer to a work stoppage this week, asserting that it is still far from reaching a new labor deal six months after negotiations started.

The Communications Workers of America District 7 said Thursday its executive board has authorized the setting of a strike date, the second step in the process. In late September, 88 percent of members authorized a strike if a new deal couldn’t be reached. All that remains now is for CWA president Larry Cohen to set an actual date for a strike.

CWA District 7 spokesman Al Kogler said the executive board’s vote, which occurred Wednesday, doesn’t necessarily mean a work stoppage is imminent.

“There are still lots of open issues. We felt it was time to take this additional step,” he said. “This is one more tool to give the bargaining team.”

The union represents CenturyLink employees in 13 states, with the highest concentration in Colorado, where it has 2,000 members. Much of that workforce came from the company’s 2011 acquisition of Denver-based Qwest in 2011, a deal that transformed CenturyLink from a regional carrier into the nation’s third largest telecommunications company.

CWA members include network technicians, call center workers, home broadband service installers and other workers. CWA-represented employees at US West, which merged with Qwest in 2000, went on strike for 15 days in 1998. That work stoppage cost the company $20 million.

Negotiations started in August and have been held in metro Denver. The previous four-year pact expired in October, though the union agreed to extend it on a day-to-day basis so employees continue to work under those conditions.

Kogler said Thursday the two sides are still far apart on key issues such as health-care coverage and outsourcing of work. He said CenturyLink has proposed a 350 percent increase in union members’ share of health insurance. The union also wants to bring outsourced work back from overseas and independent contractors to be held to the same performance standards as union members.

A spokesman for Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked whether there is a plan in place to handle consumer calls and service requests in the event of a strike, CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen said trained, non-represented employees will be assigned to cover jobs for represented employees.

“Though we are hopeful we will successfully negotiate new agreements, we are prepared to continue to provide excellent service to our customers in the event there is a work stoppage,” he said.

Molzen declined, for the most part, to specifically address items that are standing in the way of a new labor deal, stating that the “negotiating table is the best place to resolve issues.”

In regards to health care, Molzen said “the company has made a proposal that would, over the course of several years, bring the health care costs of employees covered by these agreements more in line comparably with national averages as well as the remainder of the company employees, including other union employees.”

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