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April 8, 2011

Council looks at city worker partner benefits

Cleveland--Councilor Joe Cimperman introduced an ordinance on March 28 to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees.

The plan would provide health benefits to city workers’ domestic partners, the same as those given to spouses.

Cleveland’s domestic partner registry is open to opposite-sex and same-sex couples, and around 120 couples have registered since the registry was opened in 2009.

While the registry was protested by local clergy who argued that it was an end-run around Ohio’s constitutional amendment barring the recognition of same-sex marriage and civil unions, those same clergy are silent on the possibility of offering benefits to city employees’ domestic partners.

Instead, the pushback against the proposal is based on the financial burden, since it would apply to opposite-sex and same-sex partners.

“We are working with Equality Ohio right now, who is putting together the comparables and the speakers,” said Cimperman. “I’m hoping we have the first round of speakers by the end of April, but I need to get my figures right.”

The ordinance is co-sponsored by councilors Brian Cummins, Mike Polensek, Jay Westbrook, Dona Brady, Jeff Johnson, Kevin Kelley, Kevin Conwell, Mamie Mitchell and Matt Zone.

Cimperman is also working with the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, who are lobbying council members for their support.

“I’m really proud of the pastors that were involved in this, and I’m extremely grateful to the council president [Martin Sweeney],” he said. “Without them we wouldn’t have this legislation. The fact that we have ten cosponsors and it hasn’t even had a hearing yet is an indication to me of the council’s commitment to human rights.”

Preliminary figures put out by Equality Ohio show an average increase in the cost of benefits of just over two percent if all unmarried couples are offered them, but the information also cites a study in which 85 percent of employers, including public-sector ones, saw no increase in their benefits cost.

Human Resources Management magazine conducted a survey in which domestic partner benefits turned out to be the most effective incentive in recruiting executives, and the third most effective for lower-level employees.

Equality Ohio also notes that 21 states, over 200 local governments, and over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner benefits.

Columbus, Cleveland Heights, Franklin County and Lucas County offer similar benefits, as do Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Fairview Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, KeyCorp and University Hospitals of Cleveland, among other notable local employers.

“It makes sense that we offer this,” Cimperman said. “If you ask the other cities, the cost has been diminutive. What those cities tell you is that it has greatly improved their ability to attract talent.”

He pointed to the desire to bring in the “creative class,” young professionals, often LGBT, who are crucial to rebuilding economies in a post-industrial age. The idea was put forward by Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist at the University of Toronto, who wrote the book The Rise of the Creative Class.

“If we can attract people while also doing the right thing, it’s a plus-plus,” Cimperman noted.

Cuyahoga County Councilor Sunny Simon said she is going to introduce legislation to offer domestic partner benefits to county employees. County Executive Ed FitzGerald has reserved judgment on this, pending the events in Cleveland.

Cleveland’s registry followed ones in Cleveland Heights, passed by voters in 2003, and Toledo, whose city council passed theirs in 2007.

When the coalition of clergy opposed the registry, Episcopal Bishop Mark Hollingsworth of the Diocese of Ohio sent a letter commending the city council on its recognition of the biblical burden to love one another.

“Your action gives comfort, support, and affirmation to all those among us who are committed to sharing responsibility for one another’s personal welfare,” he wrote.

The letter was co-signed by three former bishops from Illinois, New York and Ohio.

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