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US: Boeing refuses pension survivor benefits for same-sex couples

Joseph McCormick November 25, 2012
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Boeing, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers has told union negotiators that it would deny pension survivor benefits to same-sex couples, despite Washington State having approved on an equal marriage law earlier this month.

Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, represents 23,000 technical workers and engineers at Boeing, and was part of the negotiations surrounding this issue, reported the Stranger.

He said the message sent by the company’s decision “says to employees that they can be discriminated against based on who they are.”

Mr Goforth had fought the battle for same-sex couples for some time, but that given the decision by Washington voters to legalise equal marriage, he again proposed the change to the company. He said:

“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.”

He explained that pensions were governed by federal law, and therefore the change in state-law to allow equal marriage for same-sex couples, did not apply to the question of pensions at the Chicago-based company.

“We were profoundly disappointed to see that they would use a loophole to engage in institutionalised discrimination,” he continued.

A spokesperson for the company, Doug Alder, in a statement denied that the policy was meant to discriminate, and said that Boeing would possibly change its stance on the matter. He said:

“Any assertion that Boeing discriminates is blatantly false and, quite frankly, offensive.”

“Boeing is taking a closer look at how R-74 might impact company policies once it takes effect in December,” the statement said.

“Nothing is ever final in negotiations until they’re over,” he said. “What we said today is that [these pension benefits] are not currently addressed in the contract.”

Mr Goforth, however, said that the company’s policy, and intentions, were clear. He said:

“They were clear in negotiations—they were quite firm—that they weren’t required to honor Washington State state law on this matter. They said they weren’t going to.”

In the early hours of 7 November, the US west coast state of Washington followed Maine and Maryland in passing a referendum in support of marriage rights for gay couples, and Minnesota voted against outlawing equal marriage.

Related topics: Americas, boeing, Chicago, doug alder, equal marriage, pension, ray goforth, referendum 74, society of professional engineering employees in aerospace, the stranger, US, Washington

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