In November, after marriage equality passed in Washington state, the Boeing Company said it would not extend survivor benefits to the same-sex spouses of its employees. The company argued that the benefits were governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), and as a federal law it was governed by the Defense of Marriage Act — in other words, Boeing wasn’t providing the benefits because it didn’t have to. Now, according to the union currently negotiating a new contract for the technical workers, the company has agreed to voluntarily provide the pension benefits.
Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001, provided the new language to The Stranger:
Recognizing Boeing’s commitment to equality without regard to sexual orientation, Boeing will extend pension survivor benefits to all spouses, as defined under either State or Federal law whichever defines the same sex person as a spouse.
Goforth further explained that if the Defense of Marriage Act is overturned by the Supreme Court this year, the language will protect same-sex couples in any state, even if that state does not itself recognize marriage equality:
“This language also protects members if same-sex marriage is recognized at the federal level but made illegal at the state level,” Goforth says. For example, benefits could still apply if the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is struck down and marriage equality is legal, “but then a state adopts its own discriminatory statute,” he says.
A Change.org petition challenging Boeing’s obstinance had garnered over 79,000 signatures.
Studies have shown that providing inclusive benefits improves recruitment, retention, innovation, customer service, productivity, employee relations, and morale for businesses both large and small.