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Originally published Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 10:45 AM

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CenturyLink workers in West closer to striking

Union leaders representing CenturyLink workers in 13 states moved closer Thursday to allowing a strike but plan to keep negotiating with the telecommunications company.

Associated Press

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DENVER —

Union leaders representing CenturyLink workers in 13 states moved closer Thursday to allowing a strike but plan to keep negotiating with the telecommunications company.

The Communication Workers of America announced its executive board authorized the union's president to set a strike date, the final step before going on strike.

"There's nothing imminent. Our goal remains to get a good contract," union spokesman Al Kogler said.

The Monroe, La.-based company didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

Kogler said the main sticking points in the talks include a proposed 350 percent increase in health care premiums, bringing jobs that have been moved overseas, including customer service slots, back to the U.S., and using fewer contract workers domestically, replacing them with staff workers.

CenturyLink and the union have been negotiating for six months on a new contract for 13,000 employees who formerly worked for Qwest Communications. It's the first time CenturyLink has negotiated with the union since it acquired Denver-based Qwest in 2011 in a deal that turned it into the nation's third-largest telephone company.

The employees include customer service agents, network technicians and Internet support workers in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

In October, 88 percent of the workers voted to authorize a strike. The executive board took its vote on Wednesday.

About 100 CenturyLink workers in Montana are represented by another union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. They're not involved in the CenturyLink negotiations, although Kogler said they have previously signed contracts similar to ones that CenturyLink reached with Qwest.

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