So far, such coverage seems to be restricted to unconventional companies like the Voice and unconventional cities like Berkeley. But even if there was the political will to adopt such benefits, financial constraints make it difficult to do so. Celia Wcislo, president of Local 285 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), reports that in current contract negotiations with the City of Boston, the clerical and technical unit of her union brought up the subject of adding paid bereavement leave in the case of the death of “significant others.” According to Wcislo, that would not have amounted to a lot of money, and the city seemed supportive at first. But when the Scondras letter made the headlines, she says, the city backed off. “They were obviously concerned about the potential impact on the broader issues, both legal and financial,” she says.
Wcislo’s union has negotiated bereavement leave for “significant others” in contracts with three local health-care facilities, and other unions are beginning to show more concern about this issue as well. Bozzotto, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers local, says his local is “exploring” the idea of putting in a proposal for domestic-partner coverage as part of the union’s bargaining stance in the negotiations due to come up at the end of 1985. He does note, however, that “most unions are trying to hold on to what they have or to stave off retreat. Only a few unions are willing to say we have to move forward and continue the process of social responsibility.”
In an era when conservative social and political forces continue to gain strength, staving off retreat is something that preoccupies a lot of social activists. That does not bode well for an issue like extending benefits to domestic partners. In city and state governments, the fiscal crunch clearly weighs against it. So does the “family” issue, as traditionalists go into battle fired with the belief that, once any relationship other than marriage gains recognition, marriage itself is inevitably doomed. For the moment, domestic-partner coverage seems relegated to liberal enclaves and the alternate corporate fringe. Still, if it proves to work reasonably well, without being too costly, in organizations like the Voice and progressive centers like Berkeley, the concept may well find at least limited acceptability. If that happens, David Scondras’s request may just appear to have been put forward before its time.
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