DOMESTIC PARTNERS: Big Three Automakers Extend Benefits
In a move hailed by gay rights activists, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. announced yesterday that they will offer full health benefits to the domestic partners of their 466,000 U.S. hourly and salaried employees, marking the first time the major players in a single industry made such a promise, the Washington Post reports. "There's really nothing comparable. We've never seen an entire industry announce domestic partner benefits on the same day," Kim Mills, educational director of the Human Rights Campaign, said. Effective Aug. 1, the companies will provide benefits to domestic partners who have shared a "committed relationship for no less than six months." The automakers said in a joint statement: "offering health care benefits to same-sex domestic partners is consistent with each organization's commitment to diversity in the workplace and is responsive to competitive trends," arguing that the move will help attract skilled workers in a tight labor market. According to Monica Emerson, director of diversity for DaimlerChrysler: "We don't really know whether anyone has ever decided not to join us because of the lack of benefits, but clearly by taking this position we won't be taking that risk." David Murphy, vice president of human resources at Ford, called the new benefit a "recruiting signal," saying, "we are a diverse company, and we do recognize not only race and gender but sexual orientation." Ford estimates the new benefit will cost $5 million per year. Its annual health care budget is $2.4 billion (Swoboda, 6/9).
Not All Smiles
While gay rights supporters cheered, the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit expressed "dismay" at the automakers' decision. "[A]nything that compromises or erodes the traditional shape of the family tears at the very fabric of moral relationships that the church seeks to uphold," Ned McGrath, an archdiocese spokesperson, said. But he added that the Catholic Church favors "open and equal" access to health care (Bradsher, New York Times, 6/9). In the past, conservative organizations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, have also opposed corporations offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners. Although they have remained silent on the latest move by the automakers, spokesman Herb Hollinger said it was presumable that "the same (stance) will apply" (Shirouzu, Wall Street Journal 6/9).
By the Numbers
According to Mills, about 3,400 employers offer domestic partner health benefits, and the Society of Human Resource Management added that about 10% of its organizations provided similar coverage, up from 7% in 1999. A 1999 Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that 18% of all U.S. employers had some form of domestic partner benefits (Washington Post, 6/9).