State agrees to offer DP benefits, but impact of anti-marriage amendment unknown

By |2018-01-15T17:28:36-05:00November 25th, 2004|Uncategorized|

FARMINGTON – For the first time in Michigan, the state government has agreed to extend domestic partner benefits to its union employees. But Michigan’s new anti-marriage amendment banning recognition of same-sex relationships could negatively impact state employee benefits for nearly 40,000 state workers.
Five state unions are in the process of ratifying contracts that include domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. Although the proposed agreement was reached before the passage of Proposal 2, supporters of the amendment are likely to challenge the benefits before they take effect in October 2005.
According to Alan Kilar, financial secretary treasurer for UAW Local 6000, DP benefits were included in the contract to make the state competitive in a crowded job market. “We’re seeking basically what is similar in, I believe, the Big 3 contracts and UofM,” he said.
After the contracts are voted on by members they must be approved by the Civil Service Commission. “Our third hurdle will be any challenges,” said Kilar. “I feel certain whatever way it goes it will be challenged in the court.”
Mary Dettloff, deputy press secretary for Gov. Jennifer Granholm, also said that the amendment may impact the benefits and that a court ruling will be necessary for clarification. “We’re concerned that those benefits might be in jeopardy depending on how the amendment to the constitution is interpreted,” she said. “We would expect some sort of court interpretation, in the form of a lawsuit or an opinion, will likely take place before October 2005 to find out if they will stand.” Where the challenge will originate from, however, Dettloff said she did not know.
Kilar said he hopes the state will defend the contract if it is challenged. “They made the agreement, they need to defend the agreement,” he said.
It was not clear to Dettloff who would ultimately be defending the amendment in the courts. “The unions would probably be the one to defend it,” she said.
The broad language of the amendment and its unknown impact make it difficult to guess what will happen. “There are a lot of things that need to be hashed out,” said Dettloff. “Right now there’s lots of dust in the air and until that kind of settles in a court of law there’s just a lot of uncertainty for the future of DP benefits for state employees. We really don’t know what will happen to them until there is some kind of lawsuit or legal challenge brought forward or an interpretation by, most likely, the [state] Supreme Court.”
Dettloff added, “The amendment itself is pretty poorly written and on that basis alone it really needs to be clarified by the courts.”
Although this is the first time that DP benefits for gay and lesbian workers have been offered to state employees, the benefits have been requested by workers for years. “It’s been brought up before the Civil Service Commission before in terms [of] requests by employees,” said Dettloff.
The unions that negotiated DP benefits for state workers are UAW Local 6000, Michigan Corrections Organization, Service Employees International Union Local 517M, Michigan State Employees Association, and AFSCME Council 25.

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