After persuasion from New Jersey’s governor and attorney general, UPS Inc. said Monday that it would extend health insurance benefits to the civil union partners of gay employees in New Jersey 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 sent on behalf of a UPS driver and her partner.
“The governor is extremely pleased to learn that UPS has done the right thing,” Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said.
The company had previously said 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.
“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.”
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 many other employers have taken the same stance.
“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,” said Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality.
UPS spokesman Norman Black said the company is reviewing its policies in Connecticut and Vermont, which also offer civil unions.
Management and administrative staff in the company nationwide already receive domestic partnership benefits.
Before Monday, the company had said it wanted to extend the benefits to all hourly union workers, but couldn’t because it is bound by 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 427,700 employees nationwide. The current deal expires July 31, 2008.
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