DOMESTIC PARTNERS BENEFITS: San Francisco, Airlines Unable To Reach Agreement
Mediation talks yesterday between San Francisco and the Air Transport Association "sputtered to an unsuccessful end" with both sides disagreeing over the city's domestic partners benefits policy. "The parties have come to better understand each other's position by participating in this process. However, they have not been able to reach a resolution of the case," the parties said in a joint statement. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that airlines which use the San Francisco International Airport contend that because they are "federally regulated" they do not have to abide by the city's law requiring businesses to extend health benefits to domestic partners of employees (Epstein, 8/19).
One Ruling, Two Interpretations
Reuters/San Jose Mercury News reports that in April, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken ordered the two sides to initiate talks. At that time, Wilken "issued a broad decision" ruling the city's law "constitutional and, in most cases, enforceable." However, she also ruled that "in instances where the city itself acts as the regulator -- such as at the airport -- it cannot enforce its law but must instead accept the provisions of the 1974 Employee Retirement and Income Security Act, which does not require domestic partner health and pension benefits" (8/19). The Chronicle reports that both sides "claimed victory" in this ruling. The city interpreted Wilken's ruling to mean that the "airlines had to offer all nonhealth and pension benefits to domestic partners." The ATA, on the other hands, took the ruling to mean that "they do not have to offer any benefits" (8/19). Reuters/Mercury News reports that the ATA declined "further comment" yesterday, but city officials said the "argument now centered on" issues such as "bereavement leave, family medical leave and 'spouse fly free' benefits." The ATA says implementing the city's domestic partners benefits policy "would be a crippling economic burden" (8/19). Click here to read more CHL coverage of the issue.