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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 22, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 12
Boeing embraces marriage equality
Section One
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Boeing embraces marriage equality

Workers ratify contract that includes same-sex spousal benefits

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Technical workers at Boeing have approved a new contract that includes pension survivor benefits for same-sex spouses of current employees.

'Recognizing Boeing's commitment to equality without regard to sexual orientation, Boeing will, effective upon ratification of this agreement, extend pension survivor benefits to all spouses, as defined under either State or Federal law, whichever defines the same-sex person as a spouse,' a letter of understanding attached to the main contract states.

A survivor benefit is a payment made by a pension plan to a surviving beneficiary, usually a spouse, when the employee dies. It is one way that married couples - same-sex or opposite sex - can make sure at least one partner enjoys a secure retirement.

Boeing shocked union negotiators on November 21 last year when it announced that it would not give same-sex spouses equal pension benefits. Company officials said they were not required to do so despite the passage of Washington's marriage equality law, because the benefits package was administered under federal law rather than state law - and therefore was controlled by DOMA.

SPEEA, the union that represents Boeing engineers and technical workers, insisted that same-sex spouses were entitled to equal treatment and threatened to initiate legal action under state anti-discrimination laws. Kenneth Aphibal, a SPEEA member, also posted a petition to the company on Change.org demanding that Boeing honor the intentions of the state's voters and give equal benefits to Gay and Lesbian couples.

NEW HIRES LEFT OUT
While Boeing eventually acceded to union demands on spousal benefits, SPEEA did not win on all points. Current employees will still be eligible for a company pension, but new hires will not.

'While overwhelming member support and workplace action helped union negotiators continually get Boeing to improve most elements of the contract offer, the company steadfastly refused to move away from eliminating the pension for new technical workers hired after March 1, 2013,' the union said in a statement issued March 18.

'Like most new employees at Boeing, technical workers and engineers will now receive the company's 'enhanced 401(k)' and not the defined-benefit pension.'

'The company has been trying for years to eliminate pensions for all bargaining units,' SPEEA spokesperson Bill Dugovich told SGN. 'While we did not get pensions for new hires, we did get pension increases for current employees, as well as the same-sex benefits.'

While very few workers in any industry still get defined-benefit pensions, they were once common and are preferable to 401(k)s because they are not as vulnerable to fluctuations in financial markets.

UNION DIVIDED
In a vote on February 19, SPEEA engineers voted to accept the Boeing offer, even without defined-benefit pensions, while the technical workers - a separate bargaining unit within the same union - voted to reject it.

In the latest vote, 4,244 technical workers voted to accept the same offer, with only 654 holding out for a better deal. 'Union negotiators told members a second rejection would likely result in a strike as Boeing was refusing to move on all issues,' the union said in its statement.

SPEEA represents 26,560 aerospace workers at Boeing and other employers in Washington, Oregon, Utah, and California. Boeing engineers and technical workers had been in contract negotiations with the company for almost a year.

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