September 26, 2008

Human wrongs

Friday, September 26, 2008 Posted by Ryan , , No comments
I used to work for The City. It was my first "real" job with a salary and everything. Well, not everything 'cause it was only a 1/2 position and I didn't get any benefits. Anyway, I was the Human Rights Specialist for the city and my job was to manage the Human Rights Commission, and complaints against our Human Rights ordinance, and any internal education for other employees to promote human rights - in a nutshell. I only lasted 2 years in the job because in a budget crisis the city laid off a lot of people and I was one of them. In fact the entire Human Rights office was closed (all three of us) and folded into Human Resources. One of the big projects I worked on before I left was the proposal to extend benefits (medical and leave) to domestic partners of city employees. The mayor never had time for the proposal before his term ended, and the new mayor had no interest in promoting the issue*.

After I moved on to other jobs, the city council finally took action and passed a resolution to extend benefits to all employees but without cooperation from the unions (all city employees except the city council and 9-12 other people below to one of the 5 unions) only a few people could even take advantage of the option. Last year the Police guild voted to include the benefits extension in its new contract and finally this month the largest union (local 270) included extended benefits in their contract renegotiation. There are still city employees not included but I think after this the remaining smaller unions will follow. Below is the editorial from the paper (which I would link to, but you can only access articles if you're a subscriber) this morning. I think it sums everything up very well. It isn't very often that I can be proud of the city I live in. But I know I'm not alone.

*He was a closeted gay Republican who was eventually forced out of office by scandal.

Human wrongs
Our View: Benefits shouldn't be based on sexual orientation

September 26, 2008

Let's imagine that from the beginning governmental bodies granted partnership benefits for gay and lesbian workers. What would happen in tough budget years? Would employers target certain workers and rescind the medical coverage for family members? Of course not. Such discrimination would be so outrageous that it wouldn't even be proposed. Instead, if benefits had to be cut, it would be done across the board.

So why is it so difficult for government leaders to understand that it is wrong to balance budgets by blocking benefits based on sexual orientation?

The city of Spokane just agreed to partner benefits for the largest employee union at City Hall. We think the compensation package of salary and benefits is too generous, but the solution would be to pare it for all workers, not to discriminate. The city made the right choice in treating all workers equitably.

That isn't the decision the county made when negotiating with its largest union, Local 1553 of the Washington Council of County and City Employees. The county conceded bereavement and sick leave benefits for workers with same-sex partners but held the line on medical benefits. The county's position is to wait and see how much the new benefits cost before considering medical coverage. Presumably if they cost too much, then gay and lesbian workers will continue to be singled out as budget balancing tools.

This is plainly wrong. Equity and fairness should not be held back until tax receipts are calculated. As is, gay and lesbian workers are a bargain. If the county wanted to base these decisions solely on the bottom line, it would be smarter to discriminate against workers with children or those who are older and sicker. Basic decency would head off such budgeting myopia, but when it comes to gay and lesbian workers, it's somehow OK to penalize them.

In addition, the cost to extend the benefits isn't that great. A grand total of three people signed up when the Spokane Police Guild got partner benefits. Extending such benefits is lost in the churn of other workers getting married, divorced and having children.

County Commissioner Mark Richard opposes medical benefits for gay and lesbian workers but says the new bereavement benefits for gay and lesbian workers were "the right thing to do." Equal medical benefits are also the right thing to do and for the same reason.

He notes that marriage has value. It sure does. You can get better benefits. But that option isn't available to gay and lesbian workers. But that's not what he meant by "value." He was moralizing. Just as City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin did when she said partner benefits are against her core values.

The message to gay and lesbian workers is clear: Turn straight, get married and then – and only then – will you be eligible for the same compensation. Oh, and it would be helpful if you did that in a good budget year.

Such a position is embarrassing, but fortunately it is on the run.