Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pride In Our Union: educating on marriage recognition and transgender heath benefits

A message from Sheilah Sable, Upstate Director of Pride in Action:

On June 8, 2010, I attended a meeting of the Social Service Employees Union (SSEU) AFSCME Local 371 Committee on Social Work and the Political Action Committee. As part of our Pride in Our Union education efforts, this group of about 50 New York City social workers, caseworkers and local union staffers got together to learn more about marriage recognition benefits for same-sex couples and health benefits for transgender union members. Thanks to the Executive Vice President Yolanda Pumerejo who put this event together for her brothers and sisters at SSEU.

The discussion was a spirited one and addressed issues around benefits, or lack thereof, for LGBT union members. This local union (and its umbrella District Council 37) has been a pioneer in leading the way on specific benefits of importance to same-sex couples. In true keeping with the social justice commitment of these NYC social service workers, the conversation revolved around ways in which members could help make health benefits a reality for trans union members and marriage recognition benefits a reality for same-sex couples.

Materials were circulated outlining ways in which union members can help. These suggestions included: educating union leaders, staff, workplace supervisors and fellow union members about the issues; motivating union leadership to pass resolutions or memos in support of these issues; establishing clear workplace guidelines for transgender employees who are transitioning; being sensitive about locker rooms and bathrooms; finding ways to support transgender clients of city services by providing training to those who are working in that area; demonstrating a commitment to fairness and dignity; and offering gender neutral restrooms and other facilities.

In negotiating for both marriage recognition benefits and benefits for transgender individuals, there are a number of things union members can and should do to keep the pressure on, including: giving union members an opportunity to self-identify as LGBT and as partnered on the pre-bargaining survey; incorporating marriage recognition and transgender benefits in the list of goals on that survey or at membership meetings; passing a resolution in support of transgender benefits and marriage recognition benefits; using their LGBT issues committee to educate members about the need for and low cost of these benefits; using the policy and cost experience of other unions to persuade management; including at least one LGBT member on the negotiating committee who can testify to the need for these benefits and help advocate with management; and finally, with regards to transgender benefits, publicizing the American Medical Association resolution, the IRS ruling and San Francisco’s cost experience to further the arguments that transgender health benefits are necessary, tax deductible and low cost to the employer.

Connections were made with various members and staffers, who have already reached out about additional presentations for their particular worksites. We may have an opportunity to educate members of this local who work in city prisons and the juvenile justice system.

I look forward to good work with this local on issues affecting economic and social justice for LGBT Union members and the broader community.

If you would like to have a Pride in Our Union speaker at your union meeting, please contact me at 518-472-3330 x 303 or

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