Saturday, November 24, 2012

Denying Pension Benefits to Gay Couples?

The Advocate reports, Will Boeing Deny Pension Benefits to Married Gay Couples?:
Boeing Company told union negotiators that it plans to deny pension survivor benefits to married same-sex couples in Washington because federal law does not require that it provide the benefit.

The multinational aerospace and defense corporation indicated its position in talks about retirement benefits Wednesday, according to a union source who spoke with The Stranger. The source said the company planned to use a “loophole” to avoid providing equal pension benefits, which are governed by federal, not state, law.

Boeing joined other major corporations with ties to Washington in advocating for the passage of the marriage equality law, which voters approved this month in Referendum 74. Same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in the state this December. Some of the other business partners in the campaign included Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Nike.
However, Boeing did not join an amicus brief filed last year by nearly 50 corporations in federal court in Massachusetts against the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex civil marriages soon to be legal in nine states and the District of Columbia following this month’s election results.

A spokesman for Boeing refuted any suggestion of discrimination in company policy but did not directly address the question of whether the company had refused the pension benefits at the negotiating table, according to The Stranger. The company later issued a statement saying, “Boeing is taking a closer look at how R-74 might impact company policies once it takes effect in December.”
Myles Tanzer of the Gawker also reports, Boeing Doesn’t Want to Give Pension Benefits to Same Sex Couples:
In this month's elections, Washington state, the land of Starbucks and grunge, elected to legalize same-sex marriage. Washington is also home to Microsoft and Bill Gates (who by the way, gave a total of $600,000 to the Washington fight for same-sex marriage) and a bevy of companies and other executives.

One of these big companies is Boeing, the engineering company that makes planes and other cool stuff like "drones that behave like swarms of insects."

The company is in the middle of contract negotiations with its bargaining with the union that represents its engineers, technicians, and clerical workers, SPEEA. Things are are not going so well. The union just rejected the company's second proposal and a strike-authorization vote is now looming in the distance.

Boeing is also getting some negative press over reports that they plan to refuse equal pension benefits to married same-sex couples. In Boeing's ideal world: when an old dorky gay engineer dies, his husband will have to scrape by on his own just to get by.

Ray Goforth, the executive director of Boeing's union, told The Stranger that Boeing is claiming that "pensions are governed by federal law, which doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, thereby trumping the state law on the matter."

This is why the supreme court needs to rule on Prop 8 already. It'll decide if companies can continue to skate around laws, or if they should just shut up and give fair pay to their loyal employees. Hoping for the latter here obviously.
Not one to shy away from controversy, let me chime in on this "hot button" issue. First, my personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. I have nothing against civil unions for gay couples but marriage -- as it is expressed in major religions -- is between a man and woman (not that I'm particularly religious but some beliefs I still hold sacred).

Having said this, civil unions should carry the same legal rights as "marriage". If a gay couple is in love, why deny them pension benefits or other legal rights that married (heterosexual) couples have because of their sexual orientation? It just doesn't make any legal sense whatsoever and nowadays, it's simply indefensible and should be illegal.

I agree with Myles Tanzer, the supreme court needs to rule on Prop 8 already. Companies that are skating around laws to try to save money by denying pension benefits to gay couples should be ashamed of themselves. Tanzer is right, these companies "should just shut up and give fair pay to their loyal employees."

Finally, while gays and other minorities are championing their cause, I'm increasingly concerned about the rights of one minority group that rarely receives press coverage, persons with disabilities. St-Louis Today reported that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities rose again in the third quarter of 2012:
During the third quarter of 2012, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities showed a notable increase to 13.7 percent, from 12.9 percent in the previous quarter. Applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits continued to stabilize, according to a study by Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security disability representation and Medicare plan selection services.

People with disabilities continue to experience higher levels of unemployment than those without disabilities. The Allsup Disability Study: Income at Risk reveals that people with disabilities experienced an unemployment rate 73 percent higher than those without disabilities, with third-quarter rates at 13.7 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively. Allsup has conducted this quarterly study since the first quarter of 2009. The full study is available at http://www.allsup.com/Portals/4/allsup-study-income-at-risk-q3-12.pdf.

The Allsup Disability Study: Income at Risk shows that 726,026 people with disabilities applied for SSDI during the third quarter of 2012, down slightly from the 731,817 who applied in the previous quarter. The third-quarter figure is less than 2 percent lower compared to third-quarter 2011, when 737,468 applications were filed.

To date in 2012, nearly 2.2 million individuals who were no longer able to work due to a disability applied for SSDI. An estimated 1.8 million SSDI claims are pending with an average cumulative wait time of more than 800 days, according to Allsup’s analysis of the Social Security disability backlog.

Tricia Blazier, Allsup’s personal financial planning manager, said individuals applying for Social Security disability benefits need to act quickly. “Given the backlog, qualified candidates need to apply as soon as possible to minimize the financial impact of a long-term disability,” she said. “Social Security disability experts such as Allsup can help individuals to know if they meet the eligibility requirements and help with their claim for Social Security benefits.”

A delay in applying for SSDI benefits can lead to a financial crisis for many families. “If you’ve experienced a work-stopping disability, now is the time to start planning financially,” Blazier said. “Social Security disability benefits tend to be significantly lower than work income, but they are an important step in helping families ease the hardship faced when a breadwinner is no longer able to work due to a disability.”
Ever since I was diagnosed with MS back in June 1997, I've been looking into the unemployment crisis hitting people with disabilities and unfortunately I have nothing good to report. Companies and government organizations are simply not doing anything to address this gross injustice.

So, while I defend the right of gay couples to receive pension benefits, you'll forgive me if I don't shed a tear for gays, blacks, women and other minorities. While discrimination is still impacting these minorities, it's peanuts compared to what people with disabilities are experiencing. If we want to promote social justice for all, let's begin by defending employment rights of those that are most vulnerable in our society.

Below, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States is over 13%, much higher than the national average. Robert Traynahm and Marc Perriello, CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) discuss efforts to reduce unemployment for this population.