Today the Boeing Company told union negotiators that it intends to deny pension survivor benefits to same-sex married couples, even though Washington State voters decisively approved a marriage equality law earlier this month.
Representing 23,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers, Ray Goforth is executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001. He was sitting at the negotiation table today—as part of ongoing talks over retirement benefits—and says the company's position "says to employees that they can be discriminated against based on who they are."
Goforth explains that his union has long sought equal pension benefits for same-sex domestic partners, to no avail. But since voters approved same sex marriage—establishing parity with married straight couples—Goforth re-framed the proposal to apply to his union's gay Boeing employees who wed. "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," Goforth explains. Boeing representatives told him that pensions are governed by federal law, which doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, thereby trumping the state law on the matter.
"We were profoundly disappointed to see that they would use a loophole to engage in institutionalized discrimination," Goforth says.
Now Boeing is apparently performing some damage control.
Doug Alder, a spokesman for the aerospace giant, says that "any assertion that Boeing discriminates is blatantly false and, quite frankly, offensive." Late this afternoon, Boeing issued a statement to its employees saying it will assess the impacts of Referendum 74 on company policy. "Boeing is taking a closer look at how R-74 might impact company policies once it takes effect in December," the statement said.
Asked directly, however, if Boeing did in fact refuse these benefits at the negotiating table today, Alder evaded the question. "Nothing is ever final in negotiations until they're over," Alder told me. "What we said today is that [these pension benefits] are not currently addressed in the contract."
But speaking for the union, Goforth says Boeing was unequivocal today. "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."