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Talks between Qwest workers and the telecommunications company were suspended without agreement on Sunday after more than 20 hours of talks on wages, hours and health benefits, the union said.

The Communications Workers of America, representing about 25,000 Qwest workers in 13 US states, said both sides expected the talks to resume, but the union’s board had authorised a strike which could go ahead at any time unless a deal is reached on new contracts which expired at midnight on Saturday.

“CWA members at Qwest currently are working without a contract,” CWA district vice president, Annie Hill, said.

Last week, 91 per cent of voting Qwest members gave their approval to strike authorisation unless a deal is reached, the union said.

Earlier this month, Qwest revealed long term debt of $14.7bn, down from $15.5bn. Second quarter losses were reduced to $164m from $776m as the company continued to cut costs and increase broadband and long distance revenues.

Like other phone companies, Qwest has moved to counter customer defections with new bundled phone plans and cost-cutting.

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