Blumer, Gutierrez address DART board

Blumer.Oliver

Oliver Blumer

Two LGBT speakers addressed the DART board Tuesday as part of an ongoing effort to get the transit agency to offer offer domestic partner benefits for employees.

LGBT community members have been speaking at every DART meeting since the board voted to delay discussion of DP benefits until after a Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act later this month.

Felipe Gutierrez, representing Equality Texas Foundation, addressed the board and used a study done by Equality Texas on the attitude of Texans toward the LGBT community to try to convince DART to add partner benefits.

Oliver Blumer, representing the Transgender Equality Network of Texas, said he began by telling board members, “I hope you have some place in you heart,” but ended by saying, “Your inaction illuminates your privilege, prejudice and discrimination.”

Blumer said he couldn’t tell if any of the board members heard a word he said, referring to them as a bunch of male, pale, stale old men. He said their reaction was mostly blank stares.

“What are you going to wait for next?” Blumer told the board. He suggested they might wait for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to pass Congress, which would provide them with plenty more time.

Resource Center Dallas spokesman Rafael McDonnell also attended the DART meeting and has been coordinating speakers for DART board meetings. Anyone who would like to speak should contact McDonnell.

 

—  David Taffet

LGBT advocates tell DART board to ‘jump on’ adding DP benefits

Damien Duckett

Damien Duckett

LGBT advocates are continuing to press DART’s Board of Directors to vote to add domestic partner benefits now instead of waiting until July to make a decision.

Transgender activist Pamela Curry addressed the board Tuesday night during public comments. She highlighted the issues customers, including herself, have had with bus drivers and other DART employees. She said the way to improve the quality of employees DART hires is offer competitive benefits.

“If you want to attract the best and brightest, you have to treat your operators, you have to attract the best and the brightest, and the way you do that is you make sure everyone gets the benefits for their family,” she said. “Just because their family doesn’t look like yours doesn’t mean it’s not a family.”

—  Dallasvoice

LGBT advocates to DART board: ‘You all should be ashamed’

Omar Narvaez addresses the DART Board of Directors  on April 24. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Omar Narvaez addresses the DART Board of Directors on April 24. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

A small crowd turned out Tuesday to protest DART’s delay in offering domestic partner benefits, but the two speakers were passionate enough to get the LGBT community’s outrage across.

DART’s Board of Directors began receiving information about benefits last July and finally decided to table discussion in March until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules in two marriage equality cases in July. LGBT advocates spoke at the board meeting earlier this month and vowed to be back until the board implements the benefits.

Omar Narvaez spoke on behalf of Lambda Legal, listing the agencies that already offer DP benefits and explaining how the agency has failed employees by postponing a vote for months before hiding behind a U.S. Supreme Court decision. He added that there was no legal risk in Texas because “too many other governmental agencies already get it and have for decades.”

“Marriage equality? What does that have to do with domestic partner benefits? They are employee benefits. Nothing more,” he said. “You are not defining relationship status by offering domestic partner benefits.

“You all should be ashamed that DFW Airport and Parkland get it and got it faster than you all are able to get it. It is time to bring this up, make it happen, we’re talking about paper clip money when it comes to the budget. When it comes to the employees of this organization, you are spitting in their faces.”

—  Dallasvoice

LGBT advocates rally in red at DART board meeting to demand DP benefits

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Dallas GetEQUAL TX activists chant for DART to add domestic partner benefits during a board meeting April 9. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

About two dozen LGBT advocates attended DART’s board meeting Tuesday night, most wearing red to support equal benefits for the transit agency’s gay and lesbian employees.

Four people addressed the board during public comments to call members out on their inaction and delay on offering domestic partner health benefits after discussion began last July. The board voted two weeks ago to delay any action until this July after the U.S. Supreme Court decides two marriage equality cases.

Lesbian GetEQUAL TX activist Cd Kirven spoke about her shock in the board’s comments at several committee meetings and board meetings when DP benefits were discussed.

“I sat quietly at almost every DART committee meeting and board meeting I attended around domestic partner benefits,” she said. “I’ve heard Bible verses and I’ve heard one of your members say this is not about doing the right thing.”

Kirven reminded the board that it is “cruel to define a family” instead of recognizing the diverse families that DART employees belong to.

“Using your power and ability to discriminate against a group of people is more about judgment and economic injustice than it is about budget cost and restraints,” Kirven said.

DART employee Epitacio Camacho spoke about his eight years working for DART, during which he learned to value diversity in his co-workers and those who use DART’s services.

He said he values his family and wishes his LGBT co-workers could add their families to their insurance like he had done with his family.

“They all work hard. They all wear the same uniform I do and they all want equality in the workplace,” he said.

—  Dallasvoice

Activists plan to ‘red out’ DART board meeting in support of DP benefits

DARTDpBene

GetEQUAL TX is planning on showing up in full force at next Tuesday’s DART board meeting to address the board about its lack of action on domestic partner benefits.

Activists will wear red in honor of marriage equality and stand up when speakers address the board about domestic partner benefits during the open comments portion of the meeting.

The board voted last week to table action on a plan to offer DP benefits until July so the U.S. Supreme Court can decide two marriage equality cases.

Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas said he wants someone to speak about their delayed action at every board meeting until they take up the issue again in July.

DART’s board meets next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at 483 N. Field St.

For more on Tuesday’s “red out,” go here.

—  Dallasvoice

BREAKING: DART vote delays passage of domestic partner benefits

Mike.Mohammed

DART Vice President of Diversity Michael Mohammed

A vote late this afternoon on partner health benefits by the DART board continues discussion until the next committee meeting.

The DART board met behind closed doors for more than half an hour to discuss the health plan before opening the meeting to visitors. The plan they were discussing was approved by the administrative committee earlier this month.

The plan under consideration is comparable to those adopted by the city of Dallas, DFW Airport, Austin and El Paso.

One motion to table discussion until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the California Proposition 8 case was defeated by a 7-6 vote that largely pitted Dallas delegates against the suburbs.

But because there were questions about the actual cost of claims, not just premiums, the board decided to continue discussion to the next meeting instead of passing the proposal for its second vote to the next committee-of-the-whole. From approval of the committee-of-the-whole, the proposal then goes to the board on a later date for approval.

Michael Mohammed, DART vice president for diversity, gave the committee estimated premium costs for the plan that will range from $60,748 to $734,849. But he didn’t have a figure on the cost of claims. DART, like many large corporations, is self-insured. Board members said they were only asking actuarial questions.

If a dependent contracted cancer, how much would that cost DART, one board member asked.

But premiums are determined actuarially to cover claims. So if the premium is figured correctly, the cost of the new participants would be covered.

Instead, the discussion will continue at the next meeting on March 5. At that meeting, the proposal could be sent to the committee-of-the-whole for second approval and then to the full board for final approval in April.

—  David Taffet

Resource Center asks LGBT community to contact DART board members

DART

Six DART board members have expressed their intention to vote in favor of domestic partner benefits for the agency’s gay and lesbian employees.

Five members voted in favor last week during an administrative committee meeting, passing the measure on to the full board. The board needs eight votes to pass the measure. It will meet Feb. 26 to discuss the issue and could vote as its next meeting March 12.

Rafael McDonnell with Resource Center Dallas said he’s encouraging the LGBT community to contact board members to tell them to vote for the DP benefits, as well as push for them to implement them immediately.

The proposed plan would extend the benefits to same- and opposite-sex couples no later than January 2014. But McDonnell said the agency is self-insured and could implement them as soon as a vote approves them.

“We’re close,” McDonnell said about the votes. “I feel really good about this, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Former DART police officer Andrew Moss, who started a Change.org petition in July to urge the agency to add domestic partner benefits, said he’s glad the process is moving quickly. Moss’ husband still works for DART and could add him to his plan if the benefits are approved. His COBRA coverage ended in December, so he said he’d like the board to add the benefits before January.

“I would love for them to do it immediately just in the interest of fairness and equality,” he said, adding that the change would help a lot of people. “This doesn’t just benefit me.”

Contact information for DART board members can be found here.

—  Dallasvoice

BREAKING: DART committee approves DP benefits plan

Michael Muhammad, DART’s vice president of diversity and innovative services, presents three DP benefits plans for DART employees at an administrative committee meeting on Tuesday. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Members of DART’s administrative committee approved a plan today to offer domestic partner benefits to the regional transit agency’s gay and lesbian employees.

The committee discussed three plans but approved one in a 5-2 vote that would offer healthcare to an employee’s same- or opposite-sex partner and their children. According to previously released documents, the plan could cost anywhere from $76,860 $929,758, depending on how many people enroll.

The plan is now set to go before the entire DART Board of Directors on Feb. 26.

Resource Center Dallas’ Rafael McDonnell and lesbian activist Cd Kirven attended the meeting and were glad the committee approved the plan.

“I’m happy that we’re seeing forward movement,” McDonnell said.

They stressed the importance of the LGBT community reaching out to DART board members so they understand the need to vote in favor of the change.

“We need their help,” Kirven said. “I’m excited.”

Michael Muhammad, DART’s vice president of diversity and innovative services, explained the three proposed plans to committee members, including one that would allow both a partner and another dependent to be covered. Muhammad said that would guard against any legal challenges and would require an employee to have a guardianship for the relative to be eligible for DP benefits. But that plan was the most expensive at $355,236 $1,625,697.

After 20 minutes in executive session, committee vice chair Claude Williams made a motion to vote on the most expensive plan, which would cover partners and another dependent. But the motion failed to get a second.

It seemed that the committee would hold off on a vote until next month, but then committee member Pamela Dunlop Gates made a motion to vote on the plan that would cover either a same- or opposite-sex partner, which received a motion and ultimately passed by two votes.

Gates, Williams, Jerry Christian, William Tsao and Richard Carrizale voted in favor of the plan. Randall Chrisman and Gary Slagel voted against it.

To be eligible, employees would have to have lived together for at least one year and sign a domestic partnership affidavit. They would also have to provide two other documents proving their shared residency.

If approved by the full board, the plan would take effect in January 2014.

Contact info for board members is available here.

—  Dallasvoice

DART committee may vote on domestic partner benefits plans this afternoon

DART

After six months of discussion, DART’s administrative committee will review and possibly vote on one of three domestic partner benefits plans this afternoon.

The committee was expected to meet in January to discuss potential plans, but DART consultants were still working on the financial impact.

The first of the three proposed plans would extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners and their children. The second would extend benefits to both same- and opposite-sex domestic partners and children. And the third would extend benefits to same- and opposite-sex partners, children and another family member, according to the DART presentation materials.

DART’s consultant originally estimated adding DP benefits would cost $105,000 to $210,000, but the estimated costs on the proposal show $6,742 on the low side for the plan that covers only same-sex partners and their children to more than $1.6 million on the high end of the third plan that would also include a family member.

DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said the committee will discuss the plans at today’s meeting. If they vote to send a plan to the full board, it could be voted on as early as Feb. 26.

Resource Center Dallas CEO Cece Cox said after working with DART on this issue for two years, she’s glad the plans are being considered.

“I’m glad they’re moving forward with a plan for implementing equality for all of their employees,” she said, adding that they should approve one to send to the full board.

See the full explanation of the plans below.

—  Dallasvoice

Domestic partner benefits appear stalled on the tracks at DART

LGBT advocates are encouraging people to contact DART board members after a scheduled discussion of domestic partner benefits was delayed for at least the third time in five months.

A DP benefits plan was expected to be presented to DART’s administrative committee Tuesday, Jan. 8, but spokesman Morgan Lyons said the committee will hear the plan in February because consultants are still working on the financial impact.

The cost of the benefits has been estimated at $105,000 to $210,000, but committee members want to see projected numbers if the plan is expanded to include relatives who live together, in an effort to prevent legal challenges. No other DP benefits plan in Texas allows blood relatives to qualify.

Claude Williams, DART board member and vice chair of the administrative committee, said he’s disappointed the plan isn’t moving forward faster. Williams said his concern is that consultants will come back with high numbers for coverage if any two people who live together qualify for the benefits, and the board will ultimately decide not to offer the benefits because of cost.

“We’ll have to wait on the numbers,” he said. “My push would be since doing this is to prevent legal challenges, whatever the difference in cost is, that’s just your cost of protecting yourself legally,” he said.

—  Dallasvoice