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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Boeing Agrees to Provide Equal Pension Benefits to Married Gay Couples

Posted by on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 at 6:04 PM

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.


Comments (16) RSS

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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.

...according to a union spokesperson. Besides the spokesperson's comments, is there really any other evidence that Boeing ever made such a statement itself, or ever took that position?
Posted by doceb on January 17, 2013 at 6:55 PM · Report this
Dominic Holden 2

@1) Several unions reps were there, all of whom reported hearing the same thing from Boeing. And when I asked a Boeing spokesman directly, he evaded the question and never denied that was the company's position. There's no reason to doubt the union's account here. My original post explains the situation.

Posted by Dominic Holden on January 17, 2013 at 7:07 PM · Report this
Now can they design a plane that doesn't set itself on fire?
Posted by madcap on January 17, 2013 at 8:23 PM · Report this
I'd like to congratulate the Stranger,, Equal Rights Washington, Congressmen Adam Smith, and SPEEA for driving the message of equality. Boeing should also be recognized for charting the course for the aerospace industry and other employers that are under ERISA. Equality one step at a time.
Posted by Kenneth Aphibal on January 17, 2013 at 8:45 PM · Report this
Rather than calling this a "retreat", I'd characterize it more as a "step forward" for Boeing management.

Regardless of any other issues of contention that may be complicating negotiations, they're doing the right thing on this one (perhaps somewhat reluctantly, but doing it nonetheless), and that should be acknowledged.
Posted by COMTE on January 17, 2013 at 8:59 PM · Report this
About time Boeing. I'd love to say "good job", but at this point it's just "about time."
Posted by Tawnos on January 17, 2013 at 9:42 PM · Report this
Boeing is not to be congratulated, or recognized, for anything except remaining a 1950s company in the 21st century.
Posted by sarah70 on January 17, 2013 at 9:51 PM · Report this

Boeing wouldn't have survived into the 21st Century - think of all the companies that HAVEN'T - whilst maintaining a 1950's style of, well, anything. OTOH, it wouldn't hurt them to, you know, LISTEN to their employees - the people who actually MAKE the planes.

Personally, I'm waiting to find out just which factory the malfunctioning 787's were built: Everett, Charleston or both.
Posted by COMTE on January 17, 2013 at 10:09 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
@9 I see you've never worked closely with Boeing management.

I have.

Their attitudes are still pretty much stuck in the 50's
Posted by Will in Seattle on January 17, 2013 at 10:40 PM · Report this
Do not thank ANYONE for this....DO not thank the STRANGER for this article either.

The article misses the whole fact that the HEART of the dispute with SPEEA is that BOEING wants to end the pension plan.

Ending the pension plan means that future workers will no longer receive survivor benefits.

Can you thank someone who only extended it to the workers of yesterday and today and is eliminating it for future workers?

btw, 401K's do not have same sex survivor options if I am correct....they only get to inherit the money and have to pay extra taxes because the relationship is not covered by federal law.

Read it for yourself:
Posted by mjh55404 on January 18, 2013 at 4:33 AM · Report this
Does anyone know if this applies outside Washington? I live in Huntsville, Alabama, and Boeing is one of our major employers here (along with NASA and other aerospace companies). We're not going to be legalizing gay anything anytime soon short of the National Guard forcing it at gunpoint, but it would be nice for Boeing to buck the trend.
Posted by Slartibartfast on January 18, 2013 at 6:22 AM · Report this
@9 -- From what I understand, the standard battery systems were built in China and the Japanese battery systems were installed post-sale.

The airplanes are assembled in Everett and Charleston, but parts for the plastic airplane come from all over the world.
Posted by six shooter on January 18, 2013 at 6:46 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 14
@11...thank you for cutting through the stupifying layers of bullshit people have been throwing around on this issue.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 18, 2013 at 7:42 AM · Report this
Lissa 15
@ 11: Exactly. It is no skin off management's nose to say they will extend something to same sex partners which they are ACTIVELY trying to do away with entirely.
It is a cynical, empty gesture on their part.
Posted by Lissa on January 18, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Report this
That's not equality. Single people are shorted pension benefits to give a hand out to spouses. (reference family insurance benefits too) How could a union say they represent all of the workers if they provide unequal benefits between married and single workers. I do not approve such incompetence by unions. Extended pensions are not survivor benefits since single people can't designate someone who survives them to get the pension benefit. Spouses are no longer stay at home, complete dependents, like they were 'in the old days' when the spouse handouts were created. The companies should do away with this benefit completely or define it for completely dependent spouses over several decades on humanitarian grounds. Perhaps pension benefits for single people should be increased by at least 50% to make it equal. Unions, don't take credit for cozying up to married people. Judge
Posted by Judge Wyld on January 18, 2013 at 12:50 PM · Report this

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