A group of U S WEST retirees has filed documents with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission opposing U S WESTs merger with Qwest Communications International. The retirees contend U S WEST has accumulated a $3.3 billion surplus in its defined benefit fund by withholding pension increases and is planning to raid the surplus to improve its bottom line, said Arnie Albrecht, chair of the regulatory affairs committee of the Association of U S WEST Retirees, the group challenging the companys merger plans. The utilities commission based utility rates paid by U S WEST customers on specific company expenses including retirement and retiree health benefits, Mr. Albrecht said. Customers should rely on the fact that if money is earmarked to pay for such benefits, that is what it should be used for, he said. However, accounting rules allow the company to use pension fund surpluses to pay other expenses, such as the cost of providing retiree health care, he said. The money that would have been used to pay retiree health care, in turn, could be added to the companys coffers. Retirees also argue that under the merger agreement the U S WEST pension money could be applied to Qwests 8,700 employees, who do not have a defined benefit pension fund. U S WEST has not determined what it will do with the pension plans of the merged companies but under its pension documents the surplus can be used only for retirees benefit, said Bill Myers, a U S WEST spokesman. However, the company has used a small portion of the surplus to pay for retiree health care benefits, Mr. Myers said. In 1999, $55 million and in 1998, $111 million of the surplus was used to pay for retiree health benefits, Mr. Myers said. U S WESTs response is due to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission later this month.