Boeing to deny survivor benefits to legally wed same-sex workers

Following passage of state marriage law, struggle needed to defend rights

Supporters of marriage equality celebrate in the streets of Seattle on election night as early returns showed Referendum 74 in the lead.

This year, voters in the state of Washington legalized same-sex marriage, voting in favor of Referendum 74. On Dec. 6, Washington state's same-sex couples can apply for marriage licenses and marry as soon as Dec. 9, receiving the same legal rights and protections equal to straight married couples. This is a big win for all working people in Washington state, unless you happen to be employed by aerospace giant Boeing.

In recent union negotiations, Boeing announced it would not provide the same survivor pension benefits to its married LGBT employees and their spouses as it does to married heterosexual workers and their partners. The union representative for Boeing's 23,000 engineers and technical workers, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, IFPTE Local 2001, Ray Goforth, explained to blogger Dominic Holden of the Slog: "[Boeing has] no intention of granting pension survivor benefits to legally married same-sex couples because they didn't have to." Pensions are governed by federal law under which same-sex marriage is not recognized, thereby trumping the state law on the matter. 

Boeing is attempting to exploit the fact that because pensions are federally regulated, and same-sex marriage is not federally recognized (so long as the Defense of Marriage Act stands). Boeing is thereby legally entitled to discriminate against its employees in same-sex relationships, even when those same couples are legally wed in Washington state! Historically, specially oppressed sectors of the working class have been denied equality under the ruse bigots call "states rights." In this case, Boeing is doing the exact opposite, claiming "federal rights."

It is unlikely that the owners and shareholders at Boeing actually believe in any real, intrinsic difference between their straight and LGBT employees. The root of Boeing's discrimination comes down to this: unless working people force them to compensate their employees equally, including survival benefits to spouses and families of same-sex couples, bosses at Boeing are going to continue to spend the money and profits on themselves alone.

Boeing's profits in perspective

On its website, Boeing boasts of being the world's largest manufacturer of commercial and military aircraft, missiles, satellites and communications systems.

Boeing employs 75,000 workers in Washington state alone.

The company is the third largest defense contractor in the world.

Boeing is worth $68.7 billion, not including all its assets.

In 2009 and 2008, Boeing received military contracts totalling $22 billion and $23 billion respectively.

In 2007 and 2008, the company benefited from over $10 billion of long-term loan guarantees from the U.S. government.

The CEO of Boeing, W. James McNerney Jr., is paid approximately $2 million dollars a year, not including other benefits.

All this is to say, Boeing is hardly "cash strapped", and in fact continues to increase the yearly salaries and benefits of its top executives. Corporations will continue to discriminate against and pit different sectors of working people against each other because it is in their economic (class) interest. Only a united, workers struggle is strong enough to bring about real change. Negotiations between the union and Boeing management are ongoing.

Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.

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