Wednesday, August 1, 2007

UPS Agrees To Abide By NJ Civil Union Law

UPS Agrees To Abide By NJ Civil Union Law
by Newscenter Staff

Posted: July 30, 2007 - 5:00 pm ET

(Trenton, New Jersey) After three weeks of cajoling by New Jersey politicians and LGBT civil rights activists United Parcel Service has agreed to recognize the civil unions of its gay employees and provide them the same benefits as the spouses of married workers.

UPS was already providing spousal benefits to same-sex couples in Massachusetts where gay marriage is legal. But the company said a civil union isn't marriage and under its union contracts benefits are available only to legally married couples who are in the bargaining units. (story)

Non unionized workers in New Jersey civil unions were offered the benefits.

The company policy came as a shock to UPS employee Gabriael Brazier who works for the company in Toms River, New Jersey and is a member of the union. She had applied for health benefits for partner Heather Aurand and was turned down.

Another New Jersey UPS worker, Tom Walton of East Brunswick who had a civil union with his partner Mermon Davis, also was turned down for benefits.

Walton has been a driver for UPS for 14 years.

Last week New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine accused United Parcel Service of disrespecting the Garden State in the company's refusal to provide the same benefits its gives married partners. (story)

Monday the company reversed its stand.

"Based on an initial legal review when New Jersey's law was enacted, it did not appear that a 'civil union' and 'marriage' were equivalent," Allen Hill, UPS's senior vice president for human resources in a statement.

"Over the past week, however, we have received clear guidance that at least in New Jersey, the state truly views civil union partners as married. We've heard that loud and clear from state officials and we're happy to make this change."

Last October the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples must have all the rights of marriage.

The Court gave the New Jersey State Legislature 180 days to act on the decision to grant same-sex couples the rights and benefits enjoyed by different-sex married couples but left it up to the legislators to decide whether to call it marriage or civil unions. (story)

The legislature opted for civil unions and the law went into effect Feb. 19. Since then more than 1,000 same-sex couples have applied for civil union licenses.

Last month a commission to examine the effectiveness of the civil union law, created when the legislature passed the bill, was told the law is a failure. (story)

Garden State Equality, New Jersey's largest LGBT civil rights organization, says it has received over 211 complaints of companies not abiding by the law.

Among those are two of UPS's competitors: Fed Ex and DHL.

Nearly one in eight couples who have had civil unions have been turned down for company benefits said Steven Goldstein the head of Garden State Equality.

When completed the commission will deliver its report to the Legislature. It is generally expected the report will call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

"Equal protection under the law is not supposed to wind through a tunnel of hell, where gay couples have to threaten companies with lawsuits and where Governors have to write letters to shame the companies into doing the right thing," said Garden State Equality chair Steven Goldstein.

"But that's what gay couples have been reduced to under New Jersey's civil unions law. This law is one of the biggest civil-rights failures of this or any other generation.

© 2007

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