The Boeing Company has finally agreed to grant pension survivor benefits to same-sex married couples equal to their straight counterparts, according to the union currently hammering out a contract for thousands of the company's technical workers.
That's a retreat for the aerospace giant (which is still locked in sour labor negotiations while its flagship 787 Dreamliner has been grounded by the FAA). As we first reported in November, the Boeing Company told union leaders that, even though Washington State's voters legalized marriage equality, it would continue to deny same-sex couples equal benefits because they weren't required to by federal law.
"We are satisfied that this language protects same sex spouses," says Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001, which represents 23,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers. Most of those employees are in Washington State.
The language negotiated today, which Goforth provided to The Stranger, reads as follows: "Recognizing Boeing’s commitment to equality without regard to sexual orientation, Boeing will extend pension survivor benefits to all spouses, as defined under either State or Federal law whichever defines the same sex person as a spouse."
"This language also protects members if same-sex marriage is recognized at the federal level but made illegal at the state level," Goforth says. For example, benefits could still apply if the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is struck down and marriage equality is legal, "but then a state adopts its own discriminatory statute," he says.
Nearly two months ago, Boeing told SPEEA that it intended to deny the benefits to same-sex married employees, and the company appeared to backpedal under media scrutiny by issuing a statement saying that it would be "taking a closer look" at company policy. One SPEEA member responded by launching an online petition asking Boeing to grant equal benefits to gay married employees, gathering 79,000 signatures.
But SPEEA remains at an impasse over other key aspects the contract negotiations. The Boeing Company, which hasn't yet responded to a request for comment, today rejected previous union offers, which would extend existing contracts, and instead gave its final offer. SPEEA members will vote on that offer in the coming weeks.