US WEST's union workers were back on the job Monday morning - taking calls from customers and trying to find compatriots caught off guard by the two-week strike's sudden end Sunday night.

Obligatory picket duty of only four hours per week left strikers with free time for vacations. "We do have some who have been out of town," said Lee Guthrie, vice president of the Communications Workers of America's Local 7704 in Salt Lake City. "We'll have the complete work force back on the line tomorrow."US WEST and its largest union announced Sunday evening they had reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year contract. The strike had idled 34,000 workers in 13 states, about 2,400 in Utah. In a snap, picket signs from company locations around Salt Lake City vanished and the traffic Monday morning at Bell Plaza, 250 E. 200 South, had the appearance of a regular work day.

US WEST spokesman David Beigie said the company expects several days will be needed to get everyone back to work.

Managers who filled in for striking workers didn't get time off Monday and will not pop back into their regular jobs for a while, Beigie said. Union workers and managers will be working "side by side in some instances, so we'll have more feet on the street to deal with (service) backlogs" that built up during the strike.

"The schedules will become a little more regular, which will be nice. At the same time, we want to make sure we get all the remaining customer needs dealt with," Beigie said. "Then the managers steadily will be returning to their traditional work assignments."

"Mixing in with the managers is going to be absolutely no problem," Guthrie said. The only crackle the union anticipates might be between returning strikers and union workers who crossed picket lines. "We only had 4 percent who were crossers," Guthrie said. Relationships there "will take a while to heal."

Both the company and the union hailed the contract terms agreed on Sunday as a success. Union membership still has to vote on the agreement, and the vote will likely take place after Labor Day.

The tentative agreement will increase wages by 10.9 percent over three years and pensions by 21 percent over three years and includes agreeable health care, work schedule flexibility and employee quality call monitoring.

A major element in the strike was a company provision that would have put all new employees on a pay plan that included a performance component. That pay-for-performance plan will be implemented but will be optional for all employees.

Forced overtime was another union complaint. Terms call for mandatory overtime to be reduced to eight hours per week by January 2001 - just months before the contract term will expire.

"We stood up for what we believe was a fair contract," Guthrie said. "Basically, we're feeling like we got a win."

"The CWA drove a tough bargain," said Beigie, "But we've always been able to hammer out a tough bargain for everybody involved, especially customers."

The response on Wall Street was positive, with company stock opening up one-quarter point Monday.