How CenturyLink Reached a Deal With 10,000 Union Workers

Jun 23, 2017

More than 10,000 workers at telecommunications carrier CenturyLink voted to approve a three-year contract extension this week. The vote comes as tensions have been rising between the telecom industry and its leading union, the Communications Workers of America.

But the CWA and CenturyLink were able to reach agreement on an extension covering about 25% of the company's total workforce spread across 13 states, including Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado. Annual pay increases of 2.5% to 3% helped bring the sides together before the current contract expired in October. The company agreed to keep existing pension and 401K benefits while increasing employee contributions for health care in the deal.

CenturyLink—formed in part out of the old Baby Bell U.S. West, which had been renamed Qwest—provides phone service for almost 11 million lines and has almost 6 million broadband customers. CenturyLink is also buying broadband service provider Level 3 Communications (lvlt) for $19 billion to bolster its corporate business.

Some of the CWA workers had traveled to CenturyLink's annual meeting in Monroe, La. last month to press their case for better wages and strong healthcare benefits.

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CenturyLink said it was pleased with the deal and "proud of the service our represented employees provide to our customers," a spokesperson said. "The agreement will better enable us to deliver on our commitment to serve our customers."

The CenturyLink (ctl) deal follows a tentative agreement struck a few weeks ago between the CWA and AT&T, covering about 17,000 workers in California and Nevada in AT&T's traditional phone, Internet, and DirecTV units. But AT&T is still at odds with some 21,000 of its wireless workers, who have been working without a contract since February and went out on a weekend strike in May.

Those talks are continuing, an AT&T (t) spokesman said. "We remain committed to reaching a fair agreement," the spokesman said. "As noted previously, we’re offering terms in which our employees will be better off financially."

Workers are upset about lower commissions and the outsourcing of retail sales to third-party chains not owned by AT&T, where wages are lower. AT&T is under pressure from Wall Street to cut costs as revenue in its wired and wireless phone businesses shrinks.

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