Company says it will consider changes in Connecticut, Vermont after policy reversal in Garden State
MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. After persuasion from New Jersey’s governor and attorney general, UPS Inc. said Monday, July 30, that it would extend health insurance benefits to the civil union partners of gay New Jersey employees covered by a union contract.
The policy change has to do with New Jersey’s civil unions law, which took effect in February, and seeks to give gay couples the same rights in the state as married couples.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine sent Atlanta-based UPS a letter on July 20 asking the shipping company, also known as United Parcel Service, to change its stance. The letter was on behalf of a UPS driver and her partner.
“The governor is extremely pleased to learn that UPS has done the right thing,” said his spokeswoman, Lilo Stainton. “He hopes that other companies will follow this excellent lead.”
Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund also praised the decision this week.
“We are pleased to see that UPS has decided to do the right thing,” said David S. Buckel, Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project director.
UPS spokesman Norman Black said the company is reviewing its policies in Connecticut and Vermont, which also offer civil unions.
The company had previously said that civil union partners were legally different from spouses, and therefore, the partners were not entitled to the same benefits that spouses of the company’s hourly workers receive.
“Over the past week, however, we have received clear guidance that at least in New Jersey, the state truly views civil union partners as married,” said Allen Hill, UPS’s senior vice president for human resources. “We’ve heard that loud and clear from state officials and we’re happy to make this change.”
A UPS executive told Corzine about the change in person on Monday.
The company has about 8,700 union-represented workers in New Jersey, but says it does not know how many are in civil unions.
Gay rights advocates say UPS’s original legal interpretation was faulty but not unusual.
They say that many other employers have taken the same stance. The advocates maintain that gay couples would get equal treatment only if they are allowed to marry.
“UPS is joined by hundreds of employers around the state in hearing that civil unions are different from marriage and that is to be expected when people are given second-class status,” Buckel said. “The consequences to such ongoing mistakes are severe, and rather than going employer to employer and explaining civil unions one by trhe one, the legislature has a quick fix: allowing same-sex couples to marry.”
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality said Monday that the change for UPS does not change the big picture.
“This decision, while a good one, does not obviate the fact that this couple had to go through hell to get their benefits and there are many other couples out there in the same boat,” Goldstein said.
Management and administrative staff in the company nationwide already receive domestic partnership benefits.
Before Monday, the company had said it wanted to extend them to all its hourly union workers, but couldn’t outside its collective bargaining agreement. The only exception was in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal.
The company says that it wants to extend domestic partnership benefits nationwide in its next contract with the Teamsters, who represent 238,000 of the company’s 360,600 employees nationwide. The current deal expires July 31, 2008.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 3, 2007