Friday, May 17, 2002

Victory for AASP as UC Regents Approve Retirement Benefits


The Board of Regents of the University of California voted on May 16 to extend to eligible UC employees with domestic partners a set of retirement benefits mirroring those now offered to married UC employees.

Employees who are members of the UC Retirement Plan (UCRP) and their qualified domestic partners and/or family members will now be able to receive two types of death-related retirement benefits:

(1) Pre-retirement survivor income -- income paid to an eligible domestic partner, eligible child(ren) or eligible parent if the UCRP member dies while employed at UC, and

(2) Post-retirement survivor continuance -- income paid to an eligible domestic partner, eligible child(ren) or eligible parent if the UCRP member dies after leaving UC.

Prior to today's actions, only UCRP members with spouses and/or dependent children or dependent parents could qualify for these benefits.

The American Association for Single People presented the Regents with a report in support of equal benefits for all employees and retirees regardless of marital status, gender, or sexual orientation. AASP has been communicating with the University and the Regents on this issue for several years.

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of AASP, testified before the Regents at the May 16 meeting. (For access to Colemanís testimony, click here.)

"Our advocacy for fairness and equality in retirement benefits has paid off in a big way for unmarried employees of the University of California," Coleman said after the Regents passed the retirement reform proposals.

"Now we must press for further reforms in the health benefits plan, which currently applies only to same-sex domestic partners and married spouses," Coleman said. "We will continue to urge the Regents to open up the health benefits plan to all heterosexual domestic partners and retirees."

"The University of California has now set a standard of fairness for retirement benefits which can be applied to other benefits at the University and become a model for other state and private universities throughout the nation," Coleman added. "Inclusive benefits for all domestic partners, regardless of gender, would not have happened by accident. It took years of education and advocacy by AASP to bring the University of California Regents to this point."

University of California President Richard Atkinson recommended that the Regents adopt equal retirement benefits regardless of marital status.

"UC is constantly working to offer the broadest array of benefits financially possible in order to give employees choices that recognize and reflect their diverse needs," said Judy Boyette, UC associate vice president for human resources. "These new retirement benefits will give many UC employees and their loved ones significant additional financial security."

As requested by the regents at their January meeting, three proposals in all were submitted at the May 16 meeting: one concerning retirement benefits for employees with same-sex domestic partners; one concerning retirement benefits for employees with opposite-sex domestic partners; and one concerning retirement benefits for unmarried employees without domestic partners. The same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners proposals, which offer identical benefits, were adopted. It was agreed that the proposal for unmarried employees with no domestic partners warranted further analysis.

It is estimated that 2 percent of the UCRP membership with same-sex domestic partners, and 6 percent of the UCRP membership with opposite-sex domestic partners, would qualify for the new survivor income benefits. Currently, there are approximately 128,500 members in the university's retirement plan.

The term "opposite-sex domestic partner" for purposes of the UC retirement plan is defined as an unmarried employee of the university over the age of 18 who is living in a long-term committed relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

The combined benefits approved today will require a total one-time cost to the UC Retirement Plan of approximately $139 million and an annual cost of $7 million. These costs will be covered by the assets of the retirement plan.

The new benefits approved today will be effective July 1, 2002, for eligible UCRP members and will not apply to UCRP retired members with retirement dates of June 30, 2002, or earlier. Where appropriate, these benefits are subject to collective bargaining agreements.

UC currently also provides health benefits to employees with same-sex domestic partners health benefits. As of Oct. 31, 2001, there were approximately 950 employees with same-sex domestic partners participating in UC medical, vision and dental plans. UC employs more than 160,000 people systemwide at its 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories.

"The American Association for Single People will ask the Regents to take up the issue of health benefits for heterosexual domestic partners before the end of this year," Coleman said. "We will ask that the definition of domestic partnership which will now be used for retirement benefits to be applied to other benefits, including the Universityís health plan."


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