So, civil union couples are exactly like married couples and partners are just like spouses, but we can't actually use those words because...who the (***) (Expletive deleted by savvyplanners.com) knows?
The need for this letter is further evidence that this law simply doesn't work. Eliot Spitzer took a lead on marriage equality and the New York Assembly subsequently passed marriage equality legislation. Corzine is armed with evidence that this law is a failure. He should step up and lead the state out of this mess and bring true equality for all our residents.
Dear Mr. Eskew:
On February 19, 2007, New Jersey's civil union law took effect. The purpose of the statute is to ensure the equal treatment of committed, same-sex couples in New Jersey by providing those couples who enter into a civil union with all of the benefits, protections and obligations of marriage. An important component of the equality envisioned by the law is the provision of health and other benefits to civil union partners of employees on the same terms as are provided to employee spouses. To accomplish this goal, the New Jersey law mandates that employers operating in the State provide benefits on equal terms to civil union partners and spouses.
It has recently come to my attention that employers who self-fund employee benefits, such your company -- that is, companies who do not provide employee benefits through a contract of insurance -- may assert that federal law, namely the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), prevent enforcement against them of the mandatory provisions of New Jersey's civil union statute with respect to employee benefits for civil union partners.
While these statutes arguably provide that State anti-discrimination laws relating to employee benefits cannot be enforced against self-funded employers through legal action, nothing in federal law prevents self-funded employers from providing the civil union partners of employees with benefits on terms equal to those provided to spouses.
It is my understanding that UPS has demonstrated this fact by going beyond the minimum requirements of federal law and providing benefits to the civil union partners of non-unionized employees. I applaud you for this decision, which represents a significant step toward eliminating inequality for committed, same-sex couples in New Jersey.
Equal benefits have not, however, been provided by UPS to the civil union partners of employees represented by collective bargaining agents. It is my understanding that a clause in the applicable collective bargaining agreement(s) providing benefits to employee "spouses" has been interpreted by UPS as not applying to civil union partners from New Jersey. This interpretation of the contract(s) leaves a subset of your employees, including employees who work in New Jersey, without benefits for their civil union partners, creating inequity at the workplace and furthering the inequitable treatment of committed, same-sex couples that the New Jersey law is intended to eradicate.
To the extent that the interpretation of "spouse" in the collective bargaining agreement(s) is based on the status of civil union partners under New Jersey law, I call to your attention a provision of the New Jersey civil union statute, N.J.S.A. 37:1-33, that provides that "[w]henever in any law, rule, regulation, judicial or administrative proceeding or otherwise, reference is made to . . . `spouse' . . . or another word which in a specific context denotes a marital or spousal relationship, the same shall include a civil union pursuant to the provisions of this act." The quoted provision makes plain that New Jersey law intends that civil union partners be viewed as spouses under all facets of New Jersey law and that a reference to "spouse" in a legal context, including in a contract, embraces civil union partners. This interpretation of "spouse" as it appears in the collective bargaining agreement(s) applicable to UPS employees who are in a New Jersey civil union would be consistent with New Jersey law and the intended purpose of the civil union statute. I urge you to reconsider your company's reading of its collective bargaining agreement(s) on this point to facilitate implementation of the goals of the civil union law.
Apart from any purely legal considerations, the provision of employee benefits to civil union partners on the same terms as spouses would be more than a symbolic gesture of your company's commitment to eliminating discrimination. Spousal benefits are a key element of the financial and physical well-being of working couples and their children. The provision of those benefits can, in some cases, mean the difference between the security of having health insurance, the financial strain of acquiring coverage at significant expense, or the risk of financial ruin by remaining uninsured. Surely, as a company with a longstanding commitment to its employees and the community, UPS would not want to make its employees and their families face these difficult choices based on the subtleties of the interaction of federal and State law, the happenstance that an employee is in a collective bargaining unit rather than an unrepresented position, and an unnecessarily restrictive interpretation of a phrase in a collective bargaining agreement(s).
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this matter.
Jon S. Corzine