A union-management squabble that temporarily prevented SEPTA’s union workers from accessing workplace benefits for their same-sex spouses has been resolved.

Greg Kabel

The region’s public-transit system employs about 9,300 workers.

In May, same-sex marriage became sanctioned in Pennsylvania, but SEPTA management said a specific agreement was needed with TWU Local 234 before it could recognize same-sex marriages among its union workers for the purpose of workplace benefits.

That agreement was recently reached, said SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams this week.

“Now that we have the blanket approval from [TWU], employees can go straight to human resources and fill out the paperwork,” Williams said. “No additional approvals are needed.”

SEPTA’s 2,000 non-union workers were offered the benefits immediately after marriage equality went into effect May 20 in Pennsylvania.

TWU Local 234 is SEPTA’s largest union, with about 5,000 members.

Williams said miscommunication between the parties contributed to the delay for marriage recognition.

“We’ve always been on the same page,” Williams said. “It was just some miscommunication that caused a bit of a delay.”

She said no revision is needed in the language of SEPTA’s 17 labor contracts for management to recognize all same-sex marriages among its workers.

“All SEPTA employees with a valid marriage license will be able to receive full benefits for their spouses,” Williams said.

SEPTA’s workplace benefits include health-care coverage, pension and death benefits and family-leave/bereavement-leave privileges.

“Benefits will be retroactive for employees who presented their marriage licenses to human resources prior to the resolution of this matter,” Williams added. “For example, if they came in with their license in May, benefits will be retroactive back to June 1, the first of the month after the paperwork would have been completed.”

She also said SEPTA will reimburse a union worker who had to pay for a spouse’s health-care coverage in July and August.

“An employee who presented his/her marriage license to human resources prior to the resolution of this matter and is granted retroactive benefits for July/August will need to provide documentation that a medical bill was incurred for his/her spouse’s health during this time period and paid out of pocket,” Williams said. “If such documentation is provided, SEPTA will reimburse the employee for those health-coverage payments.”

A unionized SEPTA worker who requested anonymity expressed mixed feelings about the resolution.

“I’m happy that it’s been resolved, but I don’t understand why management made [same-sex marriage] an issue in the first place,” he said. “The law is plain and clear. All marriages are equal. As an LGBT employee, this ordeal reinforces my belief that SEPTA doesn’t respect its LGBT employees. It’s not a welcoming place of employment. That’s why so many of us remain in the closet.”

At presstime, Willie Brown, president of TWU Local 234, couldn’t be reached for comment.

From our media partner PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News