Qwest Communications, the largest phone company in Minnesota and 13 other states, agreed to increase wages by 9 percent over three years as part of a new contract with its two unions.

The deal also includes a plan to lower health care costs, the Communications Workers of America said Monday. The CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers reached the deal Monday after extending talks past the expiration of their old contracts.

The agreement averts a strike of about 20,000 employees, or 57 percent of Qwest's workers. The unions, which sought wage increases, health care benefits and future union jobs, represent customer-service representatives and technicians who install and maintain lines.

"We made some improvements on wages and pensions," CWA spokesman Al Kogler said Monday. The union's members are expected to vote on the contract in the next few weeks.

Qwest fell 9 cents Monday to close at $3.83. The shares have dropped 45 percent this year.

The health care changes mean employees will have a choice of plans and pay a "modest monthly premium," Qwest spokesman Bob Toevs said.

The settlement comes a week before the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where Qwest is based, and two weeks before the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Qwest is providing phone and high-speed Internet lines for both events.