Bargaining for (and against) benefits

There may not be an easy or swift resolution to the hotly debated issue of “domestic partnerships,” but the USF faculty union thinks there are steps to be taken that would guarantee a more open-minded consideration of the question.

The union is in the process of bargaining for health care benefit rights for “domestic partners,” but has been hitting some bumps along the way.

If approved, faculty members wishing to take advantage of the benefits would need to prove “financial interdependence and mutual responsibility for the common necessities of life.” They would do so by fulfilling a series of requirements including, but not limited to, having things such as “joint ownership of a residence,” “joint lease” and a “joint credit account.”

“What we’re trying to do is move the University toward a more liberal interpretation of who is entitled to (these benefits),” faculty union President Roy Weatherford said. “Like most higher-education institutions, we have substantial numbers of faculty and professional employees who are not in traditional marriages but do have individuals who have the same kind of importance in their lives.”

USF spokeswoman Michelle Carlyon said the administration could not comment on the issue because it is still on the bargaining table.

The benefits would have to be ultimately approved by the Board of Trustees. Chairman of the BOT Dick Beard also said he could not comment on the situation.

While the administration has not turned down the idea, it also has not welcomed it with open arms. By law, the University is prohibited from using any state money to fund such a venture because Florida does not legally recognize same-sex partners as eligible dependents.

“We’ve already made some progress bargaining on the general idea, but there are a lot of technical and legal complications on the issue,” Weatherford said.

Other universities in Florida have found ways around the law. Both University of Florida and Florida International University have recently approved similar benefits programs.

According to the Independent Alligator, UF’s student newspaper, UF funds health care for domestic partners through private donations. The same setup at USF would have the benefits funded by the USF Foundation.

According to Mark Riordan, director of media relations at FIU, the school uses revenue from on-campus entities such as the bookstore and coffee shops to avoid using money from the state.Weatherford said the union is looking into how other universities handle implementation of the benefits and said that there is a good chance USF will use UF as a model.While the administration has kept quiet on the issue, some faculty members have voiced their opinions.

The union issued a “call to arms” and asked faculty members to start a letter-writing campaign to the administration. The resulting letters were, for the most part, in support of offering domestic partner health care benefits. Some argued that offering these benefits is necessary to stay competitive in the hiring market.

“I experienced firsthand a loss of a great hire because we did not have this available,” one faculty member wrote to USF President Judy Genshaft.Though the majority of the letters were in support of extending health care benefits to domestic partners for a variety of reasons, some opposed the idea. One e-mail laid out various reasons for opposing the benefits, including reasons why the said offering of benefits would increase premium costs.

“By increasing the number of people in the insurance pool who are living lifestyles with higher risks of high-cost treatments (HIV/AIDS), the insurance carriers will certainly increase the premium costs,” a faculty member wrote. “Just say NO to domestic partner benefits.”There is no set timeline for approval of the benefits, as the sides are still bargaining.