May/June 2007 Issue Number 89
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
Let us know what you think! If you'd like to subscribe to the newsletter, please enter your email address in the box below.
enter your email address
Fire Rescue International, August 23-25, 2007 Atlanta, GA. Linda Willing will be teaching several workshops at this conference, including a pre-conference seminar on Leading Diverse Teams. More information will be available here in coming months.
The Limits of Equality
In 2006, Washington State enacted a law banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, the 17th state to create such protection. In 2007, the state legislature passed a law approving the recognition of domestic partnerships. Despite these protections, the City of Bellevue, Washington does not extend employee benefits to domestic partners. Why? According to city officials, it's all a matter of money.
According to Tim Waters, a city spokesman, Bellevue has adopted a "no new benefits" position in recent years as a way of addressing rapidly escalating health care costs. Studies show that extending domestic partner benefits would add 1-2% to overall compensation costs.
But now, in light of recent legislation, the City of Bellevue has been sued by three gay emergency workers, two firefighters and an emergency dispatcher, who believe that the denial of benefits to their partners is a violation of the state constitution. The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, accuses Bellevue of violating the privileges and immunities clause of the state constitution, which bans the granting of special privileges to one group that are not provided equally to everyone.
Efforts have been ongoing for years to have domestic partner benefits added for Bellevue city workers. The firefighters' union included them in negotiations with the city last year, but the issue failed to pass. Now, if the current lawsuit is successful, all public employers within the state would be required to offer domestic partner benefits.
Many already do. Major employers such as the cities of Seattle, Spokane and Burien, King and Snohomish Counties, the Seattle Public schools, the University of Washington and the State of Washington, already provide these benefits.
The lack of domestic partner benefits affects individuals and families in a number of ways. Without stated benefits, it is often not possible for an employee to take emergency leave to care for a same-sex partner who is hospitalized, or to attend the funeral of the parent of a domestic partner. The biggest cost is usually health care. Whereas a heterosexual employee would be automatically allowed to add a wife or husband to the health care plan, same sex couples do not have this option and must absorb the cost of health care through their personal finances.
There is certainly a cost to extending benefits to domestic partners. But there is also a cost to failing to extend this benefit equally to all employees. There is a message of disrespect and disregard for individuals and the implication that some workers are more important than others. The cost of such a message becoming accepted in organizational culture can be very high indeed.
Source: Seattle Times