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The Big Three Add DP


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Detroit's stodgy old automakers aren't so stodgy anymore, announcing June 8, 2000 that they would join with more than 90 other large companies in offering health care coverage to same-sex domestic partners.

The three companies, General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler will cover all their U.S. employees, including about 466,300 hourly and salaried workers. It is expected that about 1 percent will ask for these new benefits.

The automakers policy change stems from their belief that it will help them attract workers in a tight labor market. Benefits will start August 1, 2000. Each plans will vary by automaker, with details yet to be announced.

In general, employees will be required to show their relationship meets eligibility requirements for a "domestic partnership." Those requirements include: [1] Being of the same sex; and [2] Having shared a "committed relationship" for a minimum of six months. Opposite sex domestic partners will not be eligible.

The automakers are actually lagging a bit behind. Many other large companies, including airlines, media, retail, banking and technology firms, have launched similar programs. At last count there were 93 Fortune 500 companies offering domestic partner benefits, either to same-sex or opposite-sex partners based upon information compiled by the Human Rights Campaign.

The automakers believe that said the cost of extending the coverage will be minimal, and worth the expenditure.

Ford was the only company to provide specifics and their extra benefits will cost less than $5 million a year, according to David Murphy, vice president of human resources. Currently Ford spends a total of $2.4 billion a year on health care.

The United Auto Workers union pushed hard for this coverage and during contract talks last fall the UAW extracted pledges from the automakers to study the issue. In 1996 the automakers agreed to provide domestic partner benefits to hourly Canadian autoworkers.

Murphy also noted that Ford has received letters from employees and others voicing opposition to extending the coverage to same-sex couples. However, he said, "Ford decided to make the offer out of a sense of fairness to all of its workers, and because there is a business case for offering benefits that will attract quality employees." He added, "At the end of the day, we had to make a decision regarding our employees and our future employees and look at what is happening in society generally."

Ford's gay employees who have already retired are not covered by the extended benefits but current employees who retire will be. Same-sex partners will also not receive the life insurance coverage offered to heterosexual spouses. In addition, they will not be eligible for the new vehicle discount plans that other employees spouses get.

So to date this new "equality" extends only to health coverage, however such cannot be taken lightly --- it's a step in the right direction for a major U.S. player.


 

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