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Washington (State)

Nation’s largest rail carriers to offer health care benefits to same-sex spouses

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SEATTLE — The nation’s largest freight rail carriers announced Wednesday they will provide health care benefits to the same-sex spouses of their employees, one day after legally married, gay engineers filed a federal lawsuit in Seattle.

Gus Melonas, a spokesman for BNSF Railway Co., read the statement from the National Railway Labor Conference to The Associated Press. The conference represents the railroad companies in dealings with labor groups, lawmakers and courts.

BNSFSame-sex spouses will be eligible for dependent health care coverage starting Jan. 1, the statement said.

“While this it is not a benefit required by law or under current collective bargaining agreements, the railroads agreed with labor to provide the benefit in light of recent changes allowing same sex couples to access same federal tax benefits provided to other married couples,” the conference said.

Two BNSF engineers in Washington state, one man and one woman, sued the company Tuesday over its refusal to provide benefits to their spouses.

The lawsuit, which alleges violations of the federal Equal Pay Act, seeks class-action status on behalf of any other BNSF employees who may have been denied benefits for their same-sex spouses in a legally recognized marriage. It says the same-sex spouses have been denied benefits provided routinely to those of opposite sex.

A lawyer for the couples, Cleveland Stockmeyer, disagreed with the conference’s statement that benefits for same-sex spouses aren’t required by law or by collective bargaining. The company’s health plan describes eligible dependents as “your husband or wife,” without excluding same-sex spouses, he argued.

Stockmeyer said the railroads’ decision is a good first step but would only partially resolve the lawsuit. The couples still need to be compensated for the financial and emotional drain of spending months without the benefits as they fought BNSF to have the spouses added, he said.

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“It shouldn’t take a federal lawsuit to make a national company do the right thing,” Stockmeyer said. “If they tell me or my clients the benefits will be offered, and if they actually do it, we’ll believe it. But they still need to account for denying them benefits for one year.”

The rail conference represents the largest freight carriers in the nation – including units of Norfolk Southern Corp., Union Pacific Corp., CSX Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s BNSF – as well as some smaller railroads.

Its statement, reported earlier Wednesday by the Omaha World Herald’s Omaha.com, said employees would receive more information about the same-sex spouse health benefits in the coming weeks.

The industry spends more than $2 billion a year on health care benefits for rail employees, the statement said.

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19 more reader comments:

  1. Excellent

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:37pm
  2. Moving right along…this is great. :-)

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:37pm
  3. too bad they had to be forced into it

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:37pm
  4. Impressive!

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:40pm
  5. Way 2 go bnsf :)

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:51pm
  6. As a Railroad emplyee This is great! We have many “gay” employees here,many of them In the closet still. :/

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:52pm
  7. In all honesty, I really want to work for BNSF, but I've always wondered on if it would be wise for me to be out with my co-workers if I did get hired. I don't want to have to choose between sacrficing being out and proud over a job I know I'd probably love.

    Replied on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 1:44am
  8. If you get the interview Tell them when the time is right,that you are gay. They cant say no, The Railroads are VERY open to hiring people of different strokes.All the care about is you doing job safely,and that you not a foamer. The issue is the people who work with you. Railroad crews are Volgur,Sexist,racist and just plane sour. They are ALSO very homophobic,BUT at the same time. A Railroad family is a great family to have. They always watch out for each-other. They will work with you,But may give you the cold shoulder.

    Replied on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 1:49am
  9. About time!

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:53pm
  10. too bad they just didn’t do it without a fight.

    Posted on Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 11:56pm
  11. This is why I love Washington state

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 12:08am
  12. Awesome, it’s about time. I hope other corporations follow what this corporation is doing. We all will be better off. Just sayin.

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 12:18am
  13. That’s the trains I drive. I’m so excited that they are doing that.

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 12:18am
  14. AWESOME NEWS WOW YEAH!!!!!!!

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 1:00am
  15. Do you know about this Chris Whitecotton??

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 3:17am
  16. Jennie Internicola no but I’m the only one out at csx that I’ve met…

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 4:22am
  17. Great news! :)

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 6:17am
  18. yay!! i may have a new favorite railroad..does CSX or anyone know?

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 9:23am
  19. Thank you xo

    Posted on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 9:58am