A longtime SEPTA employee says she’s determined to have her same-sex marriage recognized by the transit agency, no matter how long she must fight.
“I feel like I’m in a war,” she told PGN.
Due to an impasse with union representatives, SEPTA’s management only recognizes the same-sex marriages of its non-union workers for the purpose of workplace benefits.
SEPTA’s workplace benefits include health-care coverage, pension and death benefits and family-leave/bereavement-leave privileges.
The worker interviewed by PGN is a member of Transport Workers Union Local 234. Its labor contract expired in March and talks are underway for a new contract.
She agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity, citing concerns of retaliation by management.
She’s been coupled with her lesbian spouse for more than 20 years.
“My spouse has no health-care [coverage],” the worker said. “If I die tomorrow, she wouldn’t get my pension. If she gets sick, I can’t take off work and be assured that I have a job waiting for me when I return.”
The worker pays $13 weekly in union dues and $37 weekly towards her pension. Overall, she said, she’s satisfied with her union. But she hopes it will advocate for marriage recognition with a sense of urgency.
Asked if she’s considering her legal options, she replied: “I’d be silly if I didn’t.”
This week, SEPTA spokesperson Jerri Williams said the agency is committed to honoring all legal marriages among its workers.
“It’s our intention, as soon as we can, to make sure the workplace benefits are accessible to all our married couples, regardless of gender,” Williams said. “We’re in discussion with the union and our legal team to get it done immediately.”
She added: “We must make sure we are not violating the status-quo period of contract negotiations. To provide these benefits at the present time may or may not be considered imposing a change in the terms and conditions of employment. We must make sure we have an understanding with the union before proceeding.”
Williams expressed optimism that benefits for married same-sex couples would be accessible to union workers shortly.
“It’s obvious that both SEPTA management and the union want the same thing. So I’m optimistic it will happen sooner rather than later.”
The worker scoffed at management’s position that an agreement with TWU Local 234 is needed.
“This has nothing to do with the union,” she said. “It’s about following the law. I’m legally married in Pennsylvania. I want all of my just due, as a married spouse.”
She said the law is clearly on her side, and time is of the essence.
“Justice delayed is justice denied.”
She said SEPTA officials were dismissive when she displayed her marriage license and requested workplace benefits for her wife.
“They told me to go see my union,” she said. “It was like being told to go see my father.”
She takes her marriage very seriously, and wants it respected by SEPTA.
“I definitely feel SEPTA is treating me like a second-class citizen,” she said.
From our media partner PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News.