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Published: Thursday, 9/27/2012

Unequal treatment

Usually, public-employee unions are all about extending benefits and perks. Except, apparently, when the benefit would go to a union brother or sister some members believe is living in sin.

This summer, Toledo City Council members, at the prodding of Mayor Mike Bell's administration, voted to extend health, dental, vision, prescription drug, and life insurance benefits to unmarried heterosexual and homosexual domestic partners of city employees who register with the city. It was, as council President Joe McNamara noted, "a historic moment" that he hoped would mean that "we will be treating employees of the City of Toledo equally going forward."

The ordinance made equality city policy, but it needed union approval to go into effect. Three city unions -- the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association and two units of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 7 -- have rejected the change.

The AFSCME Local 7 units said no because, according to union President Don Czerniak, members "just didn't think it was right under their moral ethics." TPPA President Dan Wagner said his members were "sick of opening our contract."

Approval would have cost union members nothing. It likely would not have cost the city much either. Few people were expected to sign up for the benefit. But the three unions rejected it anyway: two out of moral indignation and the third, apparently, out of laziness.

Union members are free to be repelled by gay co-workers in committed relationships. They don't have to associate with straight co-workers who aren't married to their live-in partners. But they don't get to impose their morality on other people.

Nor do they get to punish fellow union members for not sharing their ideas about legal behavior. Otherwise, they could deny benefits to straight union members with live-in partners, gay members, divorcees, or anyone else of whom they disapprove.

Mr. Wagner's argument was equally offensive and unpersuasive. Suppose Mayor Bell and City Council had wanted to give Toledo police officers a raise. The vote would have been much different. More likely, union members didn't want to reopen the contract for this benefit -- perhaps for the same reason it was rejected by AFSCME Local 7.

Lucas County offers health-care benefits to all registered couples, without judgment or favoritism. So do the University of Toledo, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, Owens Corning, Ohio State University, Franklin County, and dozens of other public and private entities, including numerous Fortune 500 companies. The Blade extends benefits to domestic partners in a marriage or civil union recognized anywhere in the country.

For more than a century, American unions have been at the forefront of the battle for equal treatment of all workers. Unions manned the front lines in the civil rights movement. But three Toledo public unions abandoned the battle for equality to bigots. They should be ashamed.



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