From the Columbus Dispatch:
Columbus City Schools is poised to become one of the first public districts in Ohio to offer benefits to most employees’ same-sex partners, a move that is drawing fire from some in the union.
The tentative contract for the Columbus Education Association, the union representing teachers, counselors and nurses, opens medical coverage to employees’ same-sex domestic partners and their children. It also provides union members paid leave for the illness or death of a partner and the partner’s immediate family.
Of the Ohio Education Association’s more than 600 locals, only one — Oberlin City Schools — has successfully bargained for domestic-partner benefits, according to an association spokeswoman.
Unlike Oberlin’s policy, however, Columbus schools’ plan does not extend to unmarried opposite-sex domestic partners.
The new contract provision drew thunderous applause at the union meeting on Tuesday. But it also started a contentious debate.
The issue was passed by 89 percent of members who voted. The Columbus school board is expected to approve the measure June 16.
“It’s a competitive tool,” said Karla Rothan, executive director of Stonewall Columbus, an advocacy group for gays. “It’s become more of a selling point for business.”
The district estimates that health benefits will be extended to fewer than 50 domestic partners in the first year of the agreement, which takes effect in August. The union has about 4,000 members.
By that estimate, the new benefits would cost the district $211,400 in that first year.
The new contract lowers the district’s share of some health-insurance premiums from 90 percent to 70 percent. Employees who add a domestic partner to their plan will have premiums at the 70 percent rate.
District officials say the money they save on the lower rate — an estimated $222,300 in the first year — offsets the cost of covering domestic partners.
To qualify for partner benefits, employees will have to sign an affidavit stating that they live with their partner and have been in a committed relationship for at least six months, among other stipulations.
They also must provide two documents showing interdependency, such as joint ownership of a home or the partner’s name as a primary beneficiary on the employee’s will.
The Columbus teachers union did not request the domestic-partner benefit for heterosexual couples.
“They have all the constitutional rights on their side,” said Rick Logan, the union’s lead negotiator. “If they chose to live together without marriage, that’s their choice.”
An amendment banning gay marriage was added to the Ohio Constitution in 2004. It forbids any unmarried union that “intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.”
“This has nothing to do with the marriage amendment,” said attorney Greg Scott, chief negotiator for the district. “Just because we agree to allow that coverage, does that approximate marriage?”
The union has been pushing to add health benefits for same-sex partners for more than a decade. But some members were unhappy with the change.
A Briggs High School teacher accused union leaders of bowing to “special-interest groups,” noting that domestic partnerships were not a top bargaining priority chosen by members.
A Marion-Franklin teacher who said he lives with his girlfriend took issue with applying the provision to same-sex couples only.
“Marriage is being forced on me,” he said.
The Columbus school board is expected to OK the union pact.