Boeing Says It Will Deny Equal Pension Benefits to Gay Married Couples in Washington State

The Boeing Corporation has told union negotiators that it will deny pension survivor benefits to same-sex married couples despite passage of a marriage equality law there, The Stranger reports:

BoeingRay Goforth [executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), IFPTE Local 2001] explains that his union has long sought equal pension benefits for same-sex domestic partners, to no avail. But since voters approved same sex marriage—establishing parity with married straight couples—Goforth re-framed the proposal to apply to his union's gay Boeing employees who wed. "Their answer was that they had no intention of granting pension survivor benefits to legally married same-sex couples because they didn't have to," Goforth explains. Boeing representatives told him that pensions are governed by federal law, which doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, thereby trumping the state law on the matter.

"We were profoundly disappointed to see that they would use a loophole to engage in institutionalized discrimination," Goforth says.

Boeing issued a statement to its employees late yesterday saying the company "is taking a closer look at how R-74 might impact company policies once it takes effect in December" but Goforth insists that the company was "unequivocal" in its statement to union negotiators that it intends to withhold the benefits.


  1. Jere says

    And in the blink of an eye, another lawsuit to strike down DOMA was born. I wonder which legal group will get this one and whether it will even get off the ground before the Supreme Court considers one of the other 6 high-profile DOMA challenges.

  2. Mercutio says

    I’m not sure that Boeing can get away with it even under existing law. The prevailing federal law is ERISA which specifies that plan documents control who is entitled to get a benefit and who is not. If the plan documents say that married people get benefits, then married people get benefits. “Married” is typically defined by state law. Looks to me like they are out of luck.

  3. Strepsi says

    Tes, another reason why the “States’ rights” position will ultimately fail.

    Many of the benefits issuing from the status of marriage are FEDERAL benefits, or are reflected in Federal law (i.e. taxes). DOMA will not stand.

  4. Booker says

    Let’s not jump the gun. They’re not going to put all their cards on the table before contract negotiations even start. I normally don’t make predictions (because of how wrong I usually end up being), but in this case I’m pretty confident: the equal benefits will be there in the final contract. Anything else would be a public relations disaster for Boeing.

    All of this is just union/management chess playing.

  5. Steve says

    Whether ERISA falls under DOMA is an open question I think. There are other companies that make the same claim. See Cozen O’Connor v Tobits for example, which is now on hold until the Supreme Court decide’s DOMA fate. In that case the surviving spouse is arguing that the company didn’t specify that it was using DOMA’s restrictive definition.

  6. Ellipse Kirk says

    Well, when I fly to Europe bi-annually Lufthansa flies the loveliest Airbuses. The staff is fabulously crisp and the Europeans follow the rules.

  7. Fox says

    Time for Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, to put a moratorium on defense contracts with Boeing for discriminatory employment practices.

  8. NeverEclipsed81 says

    Pension survivor benefits? Those are extremely important! When someone works for Boeing they have a great career and deserve all the perks that come with it, JUST LIKE STRAIGHT PEOPLE. Ugh this is terrible, I hope people make a big deal of this.

  9. phil says

    DOMA is bound to be overturned in the next few years.

    It seems like really bad PR for this company to fight this when they will lose this battle after either a Supreme Court decision or through the House…

  10. Tessie Tura says

    Sheesh… even Walmart recognizes same-sex marriages in states where they are legal, and I believe they recognize domestic partnerships as well.

  11. Akrontru says

    Great strategic arguments about how to deal with this, and they’re most important. What I think of is–how to destroy Boeing and its management.

  12. Akrontru says

    Great strategic arguments about how to deal with this, and they’re most important. What I think of is–how to destroy Boeing and its management.

  13. Russ says

    “Destroy”? Oh please, don’t go there – it’s not worth killing people just because they said a stupid thing. In fact, it’s completely uncivilized. Mind your tongue, this is not the Gaza Strip.

  14. PAUL B. says

    Oh, I love the smell of a good law suit. We can wait for DOMA to fall or be more proactive and get our lawyers on it. Which do we prefer?

  15. Charles says

    Something to keep in mind regarding this harsh, intractable position by Boeing. It has been one of the major manufacturers of aircraft and weapons for the Pentagon. This shrill defiant stand by Boeing against both law and justice does suggest that Obama would like to get very “strict” and even dictatorial in his 2nd term — a Grand Compromise in which, as usual, gays are thrown under the bus to please the strident Right. I find this news ominous.

  16. Keith says

    My husband also works for one of the big aeronautical contractors, and while he can inherit my pension, I can’t inherit his due to DOMA as well. We are married in California, but the headquarters are in Virginia and they cite DOMA has why they can’t provide the benefit. Hopefully, by the end of next Summer, this issue will also be resolved at the US Supreme Court.

  17. Scott says

    14th Amendment, ever heard of it Boeing? Why do we persist in being marginalized as equal citizens under the Constitution. We should all file lawsuits in every state across the country and write copious letters to all of our representatives in both state and federal legislatures. ACTION = ACTION.

  18. says

    It’s going to be a short case when Boeing is dragged to court over this. Does anyone think a judge is even going to let this go to a jury?

  19. Alex says

    This is animus, pure and simple. Hundreds of private companies offer survivor pension benefits regardless of the local state law or federal law. When the employee selects the joint and survivor payout option for the pension, the payout is reduced by actuarial tables to reflect that that the payout will be longer as it will continue until both people die. The payout is statistically the same for a single person or for a couple. It costs the company no more or less.

  20. Bill says

    At the risk of being a real wise guy (I’d use another term, but towleroad might censor it), did anyone notice that the picture of Boeing’s new airplane looked like a giant sex toy (again, I’d use the normal name, but towleroad …)

  21. Icebloo says

    So let’s reiterate once again for all the GRUBS (Gay Republicans) out there…..if we don’t have support from our government we don’t get equality. Left to their own devices, companies do NOT do the right thing.

    All of these idiot GRUBS need to get their heads out of their as#es !

  22. Icebloo says

    You have to remember that Republicans own Boeing and other similar companies in the “defence” industry. The largest part of the US Federal budget goes to these companies because they are owned by the right wing Republicans who are deciding the budget.

    It’s basically the Republican’s way of legally taking taxpayer’s money and sticking it in their own pockets.

  23. Steven H says

    Isn’t this kinda he-said-he-said right now? The union says that Boeing says that the company has “no intention of providing […] benefits […] because they didn’t have to.” Those are the union’s words, not the company’s; Boeing would probably be a little more circumspect. And that doesn’t even appear to reflect a final resolution for this contract dispute.

    Boeing’s position isn’t all that surprising. It’s not as if they’re the first large company to blame DOMA for an inequitable policy; and many of the companies that do take that position offer their gay employees an alternate set of benefits. Let’s see what Boeing’s response to all this will be before we start returning our private jets. Either way, this is just another nail in DOMA’s coffin.

    Anyway, Boeing spoke out for SB 5688 and against R-71 in 2009 (I’m not sure about their policy on R-74); the real enemies of equality around here are still John Boehner and his House.

  24. billywingartenson says

    Boeing could certainly give equal pension rights to gay couples where eg one of them works for Boeing. I presume this is about the situation where the married spouse usually has survival rights to pensions .

    Shame on Boeing. BTW they should make it applicable only for married gay couples. Gays marrying helps support the institution which is being wrecked by the 50% and climbing divorce rate.

    BTW I’ve been to Iceland and Denmark (legalized marriage equaltiy in 2010 and 2012.

    They cited the large number of str8 people who lived together without marrying as a reason (along with social justice) to vote in marriage equality

    49 to 0 in Iceland, 85 to 14 in Denmark.

    These countries also depend a lot on tourism so go there, go to gay pride there as I have and have a great time.

    Temps in Iceland 2nd week of August – 5in Am, a70-75 in pm.

    temps in Copenhagen – 65 in Am, upwards of 80 in pm, 3rd week in August.

  25. Alfred says

    Really don’t understand this. Being one of the 2 giants in the air travel industry, does it really not have the passion for its LGBT employees? It looks like the first big company that has come forward in declining benefit payments to LGBT couples. This is a shame.

    I applaud Obama for supporting marriage equality. However, he shouldn’t say this is a matter left for states to decide. Companies like Boeing are the ones that purposely seek to exploit such a loop hole – let’s face it, how can it be equality under the federal law when sexual orientation clearly discriminates against LGBTQIA community?

  26. millerbeach says

    I agree…I thought it was a cop-out for Obama to leave it up to the states. How many other corporations are now going to pull this stunt? Who knows…maybe enough corporations will try it, there will be more lawsuits, and it just may force the hand of Obama to turn it into a federal issue, as it should be. Someone did mention to me, regarding state law, if a certain percentage of states pass a law, either 51% 0r 66%, but if a majority of states pass something like this, or legalization of marijuana, then it becomes federal law by default. I don’t know law, not sure if my buddy does, but it is an interesting theory. It would be one sure way to shut up those southern hick states once and for all. :)

  27. acorlando says

    I live in Florida, and even my company has domestic partner pension benefits. But as others have stated, in a year, this will be moot.

  28. BSands says

    HRC should revoke its designation recognizing Boeing as one of its “Best Places to Work 2011″ for LGBT employees in light of this insult. Hopefully new President Chad Griffin will have the backbone to do what I doubt Joe Solomonese would have done.

  29. Akrontru says

    Russ, you’re right I should mind my tongue; however, when I used the word ‘destroy’ I didn’t even think of violence. If it had crossed my mind I would have run to the thesaurus.

  30. Steve says

    As said, if you want a legal argument for why they are wrong read the brief in Cozen O’Connor vs Tobits. It’s the third result on Google (on the NCLR site) and then scroll to the bottom.

  31. mitt romney says

    A prime example of why we need to eliminate DOMA…. and it sounds like Boeing is run by assholes.

  32. Rob says

    I want to see a letter from the presidents of the major airlines to Boeing about this. If they don’t write them, I’d like to see every gay person in those airlines call in sick on the same day. The fact is that Boeing depends on airlines and airlines depend on us.

    Dumb for Boeing to take this stand, then be forced into reversing it in a year. Their headquarters are in Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel is working hard to pass state marriage laws. Time for Rahm to pay him a visit.

  33. Paul R says

    What a bizarre series of comments. No one thinks that “destroy a company” implies killing its employees. Washington is about as far as you can get from being a “southern hick state,” geographically and otherwise. And Boeing isn’t really in the air travel industry: it builds planes and sells them to that industry and the Pentagon. As others have noted, it’s a notoriously conservative, old-school company. I’d never want to work there.

  34. Francis says

    Well, Boeing has just made an enemy of our community. This is a very hateful thing to do. Especially since DOMA, as has been said, looks likely to be repealed in the very near future. Oh well. We’ll see what goes on from here but the fact this threat is even put out there as credible is completely unacceptable.

  35. Dearcomrade says

    I posted the quote from the stranger article in the following Boeing Facebook pages that allow comments:

    The Boeing Store
    Boeing 787
    Boeing Careers

    I think the Boeing Careers Facebook page is particularly appropriate.

    If you are into the whole Facebook thing I would encourage you to take a moment and do the same.

  36. RexT says

    Boeing is handling this like any other company here in the US, (possible exceptions) – with employees in a number of States (and countries), all employee types (Management, Union and non Union) and their legal team will no doubt ensure they’re in full compliance in all relative locations. With employees throughout the country – it gets very dicey when those in one state can and those in another can not – (again, Union or Non – and it’s not uncommon). Corporations who have been leaders in support and action, top scores for diversity and equality continue to be working through these issues with us. In this case, as part of a current contract negotiation, the legal elements can become even more of a challenge for a multi-state/country company. (Not for the first time). It would be unfortunate to see Boeing treated unfairly and more unfortunate to have our Civil/Equal Rights be a tool for hurting a supportive company over a failure at the bargaining table (for whatever reason and by whomever’s position at the end of the day). (Given, we’re not really at this table and the Boeing position in general isn’t “We Will Never” or in opposition to Equality progress – and appears to be handling Pension related under the federal umbrella, like others do).

    Being “United States” – it is exciting to see the impact each new State has on the United, as we know it has and will continue to do. Prop H8 may well end this month, new marriages within the State will grow the current population + adding our State back to the list it belongs on. Without our Corporation Leaders these past 20 or so years, I don’t think we’d be where we are today. (obviously – Exxon-Mobile (poor Mobile, once a leader) remains a total zero).

  37. Jerry Hebert says

    this is a very sad thing for Boeing to advocate. IN light of the fact that to deny equal rights to married gay people is also a violation of Washington State Antidiscrimination laws. They could open themselves up to several MAJOR law suits including brining the state Human Rights Commission into the fight. The State Commission is resonsible for the enforcement of state antidiscrimination laws and I know the 5 commissioners and the staff of the investigation of enforcement agency are very dedicated to fairness and equality no matter what the political environment may be,

  38. says

    Boeing is a great airplane manufacturer and competes well in the global industry. But now is time for Boeing to take the stage and do what’s right for all employees (specifically LGBT). Please support the cause by signing the online petition for Boeing to extend survivor benefits to all employees.

    P.S. Andy, your my number 1 site! Keep bringing us greatness!