A union in contract negotiations with Chicago-based aerospace company Boeing is alleging that the company intends to deny equal pension benefits to married same-sex couples in Washington, despite the recent passage of same-sex marriage in the state.
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), told its members that Boeing contract negotiators said they would not be extending the benefits to same-sex couples.
SPEEA is currently representing 23,000 employees in contract negotiations, the majority of them based in Washington State, which just passed same-sex marriage.
Ray Goforth, executive director of SPEEA, said that the union began pushing for the extension of pension benefits for same-sex couples over the summer, in anticipation of the passage of same-sex marriage.
But this month, Goforth said, the company stated in no uncertain terms that it was not required to offer such benefits because federal law governs pensions and does not recognize same-sex marriage.
"We were really really surprised that the company's answer was 'no,'" said Goforth. "We thought that this position was beneath them."
Goforth noted that Boeing has largely been progressive on LGBT issues.
A statement provided by Boeing to Windy City Times notes the company was one of the first to offer domestic partner benefits.
"Boeing has informed employees that the company is taking a closer look at R-74 [the referendum that legalized same-sex marriage in Washington] and its impact on current policies and benefits once the law goes into effect in Washington State in December," the company wrote in a statement. "We're studying how any change to our pension plan would impact our growing pension obligations, and we'll continue to discuss it with SPEEA."
Doug Alder, a spokesperson for Boeing, said the company is not commenting beyond that statement. Windy City Times had asked the company if did in fact tell SPEEA it would not be extending the benefits.
The Stranger, a Seattle-based newspaper that first reported the Boeing controversy, reported that Alder said that suggestions that the company discriminates are "blatantly false and, quite frankly, offensive." That article goes on to claim, however, that Alder skirted the question of whether or not Boeing reps did in fact tell SPEEA it would not extend the benefits.