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Boeing Unclear about Pension Benefits for Gay Spouses

Boeing WorkerA spokesperson from Boeing reports that the company will enter contract talks with its engineering union over its formal refusal to provide survivor pensions to spouses of gay employees.

While the Washington-based aerospace company has followed practices of many other large employers by granting certain “marriage-like” benefits to gay employees — even before the state required it— pension benefits are not part of the package.

Washington state’s new same-sex-marriage law, which will go into effect on December 6, will not affect partner benefits that employers like Boeing must offer gay employees, since existing state law already includes those requirements.

The controversy over survivor benefits for same-sex couples emerged last week while Boeing was in negotiation with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), which provides coverage to more than 23,000 engineers and other technical workers. While the proposal has not yet been made on formal terms, the union has been fighting to secure such benefits for gay workers in past years. According to SPEEA spokesman Bill Dugovich Boeing had “no intention of providing such coverage,” and he noted that pensions are regulated by the federal government, which does not recognize same-sex unions.

Doug Alder, spokesman for Boeing, responded that, “This is obviously a new law, and we’ll take a closer look to see how it impacts us across the board.”

Workers’ Benefits

Along with other large Washington employers like Starbucks and Microsoft, Boeing has long been praised by gay-rights groups for voluntarily extending partner benefits to gay employees. However, pensions, along with some other health-care plans for employers who are big enough to self-insure, are regulated by a federal law known as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA operates at the federal level, and since the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as between one man and one woman, it trumps state laws (with their individual domestic partnerships or marriage laws) in determining how federal-benefit laws will be enforced.

Yet despite the fact that the state does not have the authority to require employers with federally regulated pensions to extend coverage to gay partners, employers can do so voluntarily; and some already do. And Boeing does provide ERISA-regulated health-insurance coverage for domestic partners of its employees,

As of last week, neither Alder nor Dugovich had figures on how many Boeing workers might benefit from such same-sex pension coverage.

Employment Law Attorneys

If you need legal help to secure your employment benefits or workers’ compensation benefits fromWashington Labor & Industries, contact a Seattle Employment attorneyor an L&I Lawyer at Emery Reddy today for a free consultation.

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