Tuesday, May 11, 2004

IBEW Local 103 - No Insurance for Gay Spouses 

Boston.com reports that although several Massachusetts unions have announced decisions to expand insurance coverage to include spouses of employees in same sex marriages, Boston's chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 103, has instead stated that their spousal coverage will only apply to opposite sex spouses. They are within their legal rights to do this, as their benefits are covered by the Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Other area union leaders, including the Quincy based IBEW Local 2222, have spoken out against the move, saying that it goes against the trend of expanding benefits and protections to gay union members as part of the general goal of unions protecting and securing benefits for all members and their families.

What I found most telling was the statement by Local 103 administrator Russell F. Sheehan. From the Boston.com article:

He said the trustees did not consider amending the benefit plans to include spouses of the same sex.

"We could have, but we didn't," Sheehan said. "I'm sure we have plenty of gay members, and that's OK. They shouldn't have expected benefits if they knew their plan."

Sheehan brushed aside any suggestion that the step could be discriminatory and stressed that his union is free to extend benefits as it sees fit.

"We could choose to change our plan and offer everybody $10,000 worth of dental each year," Sheehan said.

So basically his opinion, and by extension the other 5 executive board members who voted unanimously on the change, is - yeah, we've got gay union members. Tough shit. Because we can do what we want it's not discriminatory; it's just what we want to do.

I'm not sure what analogy he was reaching for with the comparison to a hypothetical decision to vastly expand dental coverage. Is he saying that extending coverage to married gay spouses would be financially problematic in the way that $10K/year of dental coverage would be? If so, say so. Or is he saying that the idea of extending the benefits to gay legal spouses would be as unheard of as offering that amount of dental? If that's their opinion, just say it rather than implying it. If you're going to hold on proudly to your discriminatory attitudes and impose your views on the union members who look to you to protect their best interests, then by all means speak up and state it. If you're going to be an ass, you may as well be a total ass.

Posted by Beth Henderson at 8:39 AM