Negotiators for Qwest Communications and a union representing 25,000 workers in 13 states kept talking past a strike deadline last night...

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Negotiators for Qwest Communications and a union representing 25,000 workers in 13 states kept talking past a strike deadline last night in hopes of reaching a settlement.

Earlier yesterday, the Communications Workers of America’s executive board authorized the union president to call a strike if an agreement wasn’t reached by 11 p.m. Seattle time, when the old contract expired.

But shortly before the deadline, CWA District 7 Vice President Annie Hill issued a statement saying progress was being made and “the clock will stop” while talks continue.

Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said, “The parties continue to bargain in good faith. We fully expect to reach an agreement.”

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Both sides had said from the beginning that they hoped to avoid a walkout.

Upbeat statements

The CWA said earlier yesterday that progress had been disappointing. But later, statements from both sides turned more upbeat.

Information

For updates on Qwest negotiations:

Qwest Communications

International: www.qwest.com

Communications Workers

of America: www.cwa-union.org

Denver-based Qwest employs more than 3,000 technicians and call-center employees in Washington state. The company is the largest provider of phone service in Washington, with more than 2.3 million customers. A walkout would affect employees ranging from customer-service representatives to technicians in 13 states. Qwest could operate normally if the workers went on strike, Toevs said.

An e-mail from the union to its members early yesterday said Qwest had backed away from its plan to increase mandatory overtime, one of the major issues holding up a new contract. But Qwest was not moving on health-care and retirement-plan issues, the message said.

Jobs ceiling?

The Denver-based company wanted to double the number of additional hours a worker can be required to work, from eight to 16 hours a week.

Some employees and analysts have speculated the company might be using its mandatory overtime policy to avoid hiring new employees. In the past several years, Qwest has eliminated thousands of jobs as it struggled with multibillion-dollar debt and government investigations of its finances.

It also has faced increasing competition from cable companies and Internet-based phone services.

Mandatory overtime was a major factor in the CWA’s 15-day strike against Qwest in 1998.

The company is working to reduce its current debt of about $17 billion.

This story was based on reports from Associated Press reporter Jon Sarche and Seattle Times reporters Tricia Duryee and Keith Ervin.