Column: Publix Offers Smoke and Mirror Policy

Media outlets are reporting that Publix, a large Southern grocery store chain, has decided to offer health benefits to married same-sex couples. Sounds exciting, but don’t believe the hype. This apparent change in policy is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

First any married couple will have the right to health benefits — straight or gay.  The only real change that Publix is offering is that in non-marriage equality states like Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, same-sex couples will now have the opportunity to travel to another state where it is legal just so they can get health benefits in their home state.

That’s absurd. This is not something we should be celebrating.

This change obviously comes now because same-sex marriage is becoming legal from coast to coast and Publix was going to have to update their policies anyway. Florida, where Publix is headquartered, is also the latest state to get marriage equality.

"It's good business for us to offer benefits to all employees, not just those in the states that recognize it," Maria Brouse, director of media relations at Publix, told CNN.

But many companies have offered domestic partner health benefits for years to their employees. According to the Human Rights Campaign 62 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer domestic partner health insurance benefits.

Just take a look at this leaked memo from Walmart in 2013 on why they started offering domestic partner benefits:

“It’s a business decision, not a moral or political decision. We operate in 50 states, hundreds of municipalities and Puerto Rico, and as clarified under the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), each of these states are developing different definitions of marriage, domestic partner, civil union, etc. By developing a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we are able to ensure consistency for associates across our markets.

Given the diverse world we live in today, a comprehensive benefit package that includes domestic partner benefits appeals to the contemporary workforce. Many companies, including most of our competitors, already offer spouse/partner benefits to their employees. Of 30 retail competitors, all but two (Publix and Stop and Shop union plan) provide either same- or opposite-sex domestic partner coverage.”

Notice that Publix is one of Walmart’s only competitors to not offer those benefits until now — kind of. Again, employees in a state where marriage equality is not legal will still have to travel out of state just so they can get those same benefits afforded to straight couples.

They’re not giving us anything.

Let’s look at the reality here: last year the Human Rights Campaign rated them a zero (out of 100) on its 2015 Corporate Equality Index. Other large grocery store chains this year, such as Target (100), Walmart (90), Whole Foods Market (75), and Winn-Dixie (45), did much better. Publix was also rated zero on HRC’s 2014 and 2013 reports.

They should be ashamed and embarrassed — not boasting.

So let’s call this what it is really is — a way to simplify Publix’s internal policies. Nothing more. 


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