Updated from 12.12 a.m. EST


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says it plans to cut 8,000 workers, or 14% of its staff by the end of March.

The No. 3 wireless player, which has lost millions of customers in the past four years after an ill-fated merger with Nextel, says the cuts will help reduce about $1.2 billion in labor costs.

The move precedes Sprint's fourth-quarter financial report, scheduled for Thursday. In addition to losing disgruntled Nextel customers,


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promotions have impeded Sprint's ability to retain customers.

In the third quarter, Sprint reported disappointing break-even earnings and the loss of 1.3 million customers. In an effort to compete and reduce its customer exodus, Sprint has pushed lowered priced calling plans and went on a

costly advertising blitz

in December.

Analysts expect Sprint to post another massive customer loss report Thursday with exiting user totals again exceeding 1 million.

Sprint had been

seeking buyout volunteers

since November, and at least one analyst predicted last month that the company would have to make severe cuts to its labor costs.

"Labor reductions are always the most difficult action to take, but many companies are finding it necessary in this environment," CEO Dan Hesse said in a press release.

Sprint says it has stopped perks like matching retirement contributions, tuition reimbursements and has frozen pay increases this year.

In May, the S&P credit rating agency cut Sprint's debt

to junk

. Since then, Sprint has lowered its debt by $2 billion and says it had $4 billion in cash.

Sprint shares, which have dropped 73% in the past year, were up 2% to $2.51 in recent trading Monday.

Meanwhile, AT&T was up 2.4% to $26.74, Verizon was up 1.2% to $30.81, and

Deutsche Telekom

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was up 0.1% to $13.30.