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Union’s same-sex benefits bid rejected by Milwaukee council

WASHINGTON (BP)–Bucking a growing trend in some parts of the country, Milwaukee has rejected a bid by its government workers union to include benefits for same-sex partners in the city’s employee benefits package, according to a CNSNews.com report.

Milwaukee Common Council on May 8 rejected a request by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union to extend partnership benefits to its homosexual members

In recent years, cities including New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco have approved benefits for same-sex domestic partners.

Milwaukee’s Finance and Personnel Committee first passed the proposal May 2 before it went down to defeat in an 11-5 vote before the full Common Council.

The rejection represents the first time in 40 years that the city’s Common Council has rejected a union contract passed in committee.

A local pastor, Ralph Ovadal of Milwaukee’s Christ the King Church, credited the canvassing of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods by members of his group, Wisconsin Christians United, with the proposal’s defeat.

“Credit goes to those of us who got into Milwaukee neighborhoods. Wisconsin United was very active in arousing people to action,” Ovadal said.

The effort to include same-sex benefits in the city’s overall benefits proposal met with significant opposition from rank and file union members prior to its presentation to the city for a vote, according to a top union official.

“The contract passed with a narrow vote of approximately 100 votes amidst the 1000 or so votes that were cast. This is significantly less than most ratification votes; we just presented to the city what the majority of our membership voted for,” said AFSCME Executive Director Richard Abelson.

Opponents of the proposal cited the estimated $60,000 extra that the added benefits would have cost the city. “The city of Milwaukee has faced serious financial problems over the past several years involving the mayor’s efforts to change the city’s pension program; it took a large chunk of money and left the city in a hole,” said Kathy Dolan, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Even though the contract has been rejected, the council still has three weeks during which it may reconsider its vote, which is what union officials are counting on. “I hope that the council will do the fiscally smart thing and ratify the contract on May 29,” Abelson said.

The mayor’s office indicated that it had supported the inclusion of same-sex benefits as part of an overall package for the city’s unionized workers.

“The financial argument does not make any sense considering that the cost of arbitration would be between $50,000 and $100,000, in excess of the $60,000 per year that the added benefits would cost,” said Steve Filmanowicz, press secretary for Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist.

The debate over same-sex benefits has raised fears of spending taxpayer money to support what some see as an objectionable lifestyle.

“While I cannot speak for the members of the Milwaukee city council, I can say there were a lot of fears that tax dollars would be wasted because of the perception that gays and lesbians do not have long-term committed relationships,” Dolan said.

The city’s refusal to approve same-sex benefits points to what Dolan called the overall cultural conservatism of Milwaukee’s population.

“Milwaukee is a very moralist city. Although it is known to be progressive on union issues, it is very conservative on social issues,” Dolan said.

Another political scientist said the city has a strong religious tradition that distinguishes it from other large cities in America where same-sex benefits have been approved.

“The success of same-sex benefits in cities on the East and West coasts, such as San Francisco or New York, points to a lesser amount of religious practice and their reduced emphasis upon morality,” said Penn State assistant professor of political science Robert Speel. “Cities such as Milwaukee tend to be more conservative due to their greater religiosity.”
Rossomando is a staff writer with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • John Rossomando