The University Place City Council managed to tick off people on both sides of the domestic partner benefits issue Monday – a fairly reliable indicator that it neither overstepped nor understepped.
That kind of reaction is to be expected when elected officials take up such a controversial issue as extending health benefits to city employees’ domestic partners – gay and straight – and their children. They’re either going to make some people very happy and others very unhappy or they’re going to split the difference and disappoint almost everybody.
That’s what happened in this case when the City Council stopped short of approving equal benefits for employees’ domestic partners. Instead, a 6-1 majority approved a compromise: Domestic partners and their children can get the health benefits, but the employee – not the city – would pay for the extra coverage at the city’s premium rate, which is about $200 to $300 per month cheaper than what the domestic partner would pay for regular medical coverage.
It’s not as good a deal as the one married employees get for their spouses and children, but it’s a better deal than most other South Sound cities offer their employees. That “glass half full” compromise doesn’t satisfy supporters of domestic partnerships who want equal treatment, and it doesn’t sit well with those opponents of partnerships who object to offering any benefits at all.
The offer is good for one year. After that, the council will decide whether to extend full coverage to domestic partners, drop it altogether or continue with the employee-pays option.
The trend in state and local governments – as well as in business – is toward domestic partner benefits. Pierce County, Tacoma, Lacey and Federal Way are among the local governments in Washington offering them, and a majority of Fortune 500 companies do, too.
The Association of Washington Cities, which offers domestic partner benefits to its own employees, calls it “a good business decision.”
Why? Simple demographics.
A big wave is coming – a wave of baby boom retirements. Any government or business that doesn’t offer a competitive benefits package that appeals to younger workers – many of whom see nothing wrong in living together without benefit of marriage or living openly with a same-sex partner – may find it harder to attract applicants. And lack of good benefits is one of the top five reasons workers leave a job, forcing employers to go through expensive, time-consuming job searches.
It’s apparent from comments by some of the City Council members that their personal morality influenced their reluctance to offer the same benefits to domestic partners as the city provides to spouses. That’s understandable, but in this case, their qualms will not serve the city’s future hiring efforts.