Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Illinois Expands Domestic Partner Benefits for IL Treasury Workers

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that gay and lesbian employees of the Illinois Treasurer's office with domestic partners will have the same benefits as married employees under an executive order signed by state treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias Sunday.

They'll get the same family and medical leave benefits, be able to take time off to have or adopt children and take bereavement time on par with married workers. That is in addition to health care benefits that same-sex partners already received.

The order makes the office the first constitutional Illinois state office or state agency to adopt such a policy and one of only nine states and the District of Columbia to implement leave-related benefits for domestic partners, Giannoulias said. He hopes other state offices will take the same action.

"Today we're looking to lead the way," he said.

"Hard working men and women devoted to their families should not have to choose between their family and keeping their job. The bottom line is that we should not deny same sex domestic couples the same rights that are available to married couples."

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick parent, spouse or child.

The Treasurer's Office's new domestic partner benefits will be available to employees who sign an affidavit affirming that they are in a committed long-term relationship and meet other criteria, such as relying on each other for financial and emotional support, sharing a common household or owning property, representatives said.

The office employs roughly 180 people.

Cleo Downing, a marketing representative for the Treasurer's Office, welcomed the order. She said when her mother-in-law passed away in Newark eight months ago, she flew to the funeral, but had to return home the next day.

"I left my wife in Newark because I had to get back to work," she said. "I didn't have a lot of off time."

A month after that when her wife became ill, she said she had to go to work every day and then from work go directly to the hospital because she wasn't entitled to family leave.

"I had to do what I had to do," she said.

The couple married in Canada and have been in a committed relationship for 10 years.

"This particularly signing will affect me directly and my household," she said, adding it represents "what true equality is."

The order, which could be reversed by a succeeding administration, drew support from Democratic Treasurer's Office nominee Robin Kelly, who was on hand for the signing.

Giannoulias, who is seeking President Obama's former Senate seat, said politics wasn't the impetus for his action.

"Stories like Cleo's, hearing from employees, we just thought it was something that needs to get done," he said. "This is the right thing to do. It's not about politics at all."

State Rep. Greg Harris, noting many private sector companies offer such benefits, said it will assist the office in being able to attract and keep the highest quality workers.

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