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Qwest union frets about service jobs

The Associated Press

DENVER — Union officials have raised concerns about Qwest Communications’ plan to contract with an outside vendor for customer-service jobs, saying the move could weaken their bargaining position.

The jobs would be transferred to contractors when union members retire or leave the company, the Communications Workers of America said.

It could mean the elimination of about 3,500 union jobs through attrition because turnover is high in that department, said John Thompson, executive director of CWA District 7.

The union has asked its members to e-mail Qwest CEO Richard Notebaert with the message, “We are the spirit of service, stop subcontracting our jobs.”

“The Spirit of Service” is Qwest’s motto.

The telecommunications company is working with several companies to contract out work, Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said. He declined to identify them.

Toevs said no jobs would be shipped overseas and no union workers would be fired.

The company has been cutting costs in part by reducing the labor force to about 42,000 from 62,000 when it acquired U S West in 2000.

Qwest and the CWA are scheduled to begin negotiations in June to replace a contract set to expire in August.

In a related development, Qwest has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a federal investigation into allegations that it failed to publicize the Lifeline and Link-Up programs among low-income residents on tribal lands.

The two programs provide basic local telephone service for as little as $1 a month plus installation credits.

Qwest also will spend at least $200,000 on a tribal outreach program under the consent decree reached recently with the Federal Communications Commission. Qwest neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.

The FCC began investigating the allegations after tribal members complained in October 2003.

Denver-based Qwest provides local phone service in 14 states in the Midwest and West.