Boeing using DOMA as excuse to deny benefits to married gay couples

Via Slog:

Today the Boeing Company told union negotiators that it intends to deny pension survivor benefits to same-sex married couples, even though Washington State voters decisively approved a marriage equality law earlier this month.

Representing 23,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers, Ray Goforth is executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001. He was sitting at the negotiation table today—as part of ongoing talks over retirement benefits—and says the company’s position “says to employees that they can be discriminated against based on who they are.”

Goforth explains that his union has long sought equal pension benefits for same-sex domestic partners, to no avail. But since voters approved same sex marriage—establishing parity with married straight couples—Goforth re-framed the proposal to apply to his union’s gay Boeing employees who wed. “Their answer was that they had no intention of granting pension survivor benefits to legally married same-sex couples because they didn’t have to,” Goforth explains. Boeing representatives told him that pensions are governed by federal law, which doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, thereby trumping the state law on the matter.

“We were profoundly disappointed to see that they would use a loophole to engage in institutionalized discrimination,” Goforth says.

Now that they’ve seriously ticked people off, Boeing is claiming that nothing is final.

Pretty weasel-y thing for a company to do, hide behind the “Defense of Marriage Act” in order to deny some of its married employees the same benefits as other married employees.

The good news is that these kind of bigoted actions will likely help prove the harm that DOMA, and marriage inequality more generally, is causing in court.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • Ian

    New Boeing 787′s grounded today in a massive Karma hit.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Another 5 to 4: Bigots against justice.

  • rmthunter

    Don’t hold your breath on that.

  • A reader in Colorado

    No, he can sign the damn executive order covering federal contractors.

  • Elrey

    Well, I’m certainly not buying my next airplane from them!

  • unclemike

    What, exactly, can Obama do? Overturn DOMA all by himself?

  • Butch1

    Thanks for the information. It certainly sounds like a discrimination case if there ever was one to me.

    Fingers crossed.

  • rmthunter

    The whole thing is just too weird. I’m just going to wait until it’s past the “he said/she said” stage and we know something concrete, although I suspect you may be at least partially right — it’s entirely possible that no one ever thought as far as “what happens to pension benefits if R 74 passes?”

  • rmthunter

    Not sure what you mean — my comment was meant to say that the union may be trying to exert some pressure on the company.

  • Skeptical Cicada

    Using a threat of anti-gay discrimination as a pressure tactic is unacceptable.

  • Stev84

    Maybe someone acted on their own without coordinating properly with their superiors.

  • Stev84

    Legally it’s somewhat of an open question. ERISA is a federal law and while it doesn’t specify the term “spouse” itself, it defers to the IRS which defers to DOMA.

    There is actually already a DOMA lawsuit about precisely this issue. See “Cozen O’Connor v Tobits”. The brief is at the bottom:
    http://www.nclrights.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=14401.0&dlv_id=19263

    The suit is on hold while the Supremes decide.

  • rmthunter

    This whole thing puzzles me — something’s screwy: Boeing has been a strong supporter of equality, instituting domestic partner benefits in the late ’90s, supporting the “everything but the word” DP referendum, supporting R 74, and signing on to an amicus brief against DOMA in the 9th Circuit. This would represent a sudden 180 for them, and it just doesn’t make sense.

    Later in the article it notes that Boeing says it is examining its policies in light of R 74, and is maintaining that refusing survivor pension benefits is not necessarily a final position. The union says the company was “unequivocal.” I think we’re getting a lot of he said/she said here, and maybe an effort to exert some pressure from the union side. (Not doubting their honesty as to the substance, but wondering how much spin is involved.) I’m reserving judgment on this until there’s more information.

    And reading back over this, it’s pretty depressing: I’ve been following politics too much — I don’t believe anybody any more.

  • http://twitter.com/RyanWithCupcake Ryan

    This seems like a short-sighted way to run a company. They don’t have pensions because they are legally required to. They give pensions because they find it useful for attracting and retaining high quality employees and improving morale. Using a loophole like this to screw over some of their employees is sending a message that they will screw over anyone if the opportunity arises.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yeah, I know… As ever, it’s something which would require deeds, not words, and we know how this President has been with that. I guess in making my comment, it wasn’t so much ‘hopeful’ but rather a line of questioning that could be pursued to try to apply pressure, much the same way Joe Sudbay’s question pushed the whole ‘evolving’ meme.

  • A reader in Colorado

    That would be asking President Obama to do something and you know since he graciously deigned to allow that if states granted same sex couples marriage rights it was okay with him, to ask him to do anything more is no longer cool.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    We have here once again proof both of animus and tangible financial harm being done to legally married same-sex couples because of DOMA.

    Here’s hoping it serves as more ammunition to get it overturned, which as I see it, is way better than hoping uselessly for Congress to get around to repealing it — because there’s no way the House GOP will allow it and there are far too many ConservaDems who’d happily join them in blocking it in the Senate as well.

    Different side thought though: Boeing is also a defense contractor. Would not an executive order from the President trump DOMA — y’know, the EO version of ENDA we’ve been lobbying Obama to sign, covering all federal contractors?

  • Butch1

    If they are paying out money to heterosexual married couples in the state of Washington and refuse to do the same to homosexual married couples they will be in for a world of hurt in this state. They will be fighting a discrimination suit.

  • Butch1

    A lot of money was spent to give them intensives to stay in the state of Washington so they owe us something. To now say they will not pay benefits to the spouses of legally married partners is outrageous and sounds to me like an huge law suit coming in the future which will ultimately cost them much more money and bad PR in the process. If this is what they want, they are on the wrong side of the argument and it is very clear that one cannot discriminate against one marriage and another.

  • Progman

    I guess they’ll just have to lose some of thieir government contracts until they realize they’re “error”

  • A reader in Colorado

    Many people claim that “civil unions” are as good as marriage. This is proof it is not true. This is why same sex marriage needs to be federally recognized when a legal same sex marriage is performed in a state.

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