Time has come for domestic partner benefits

We are proud to lead a broad coalition of Milwaukee County Supervisors pushing for the County to adopt a private-sector health benefits model for domestic partners of County employees. This is a pro-business move, and we’re taking a page out of the book of some of the largest and most successful private-sector employers in Milwaukee.  They use this tool to recruit the most talented employees in the marketplace, while also promoting equality and fairness throughout the workforce.

We want to do the same thing in Milwaukee County.  At a time when a number of county employees are retiring, we have a number of vacancies in key positions. From department head positions to entry-level positions, this benefit model can help ensure that Milwaukee County employs the best people possible.

We compete with both private and public employers in filling these positions. Domestic partnership benefits will help us retain employees while avoiding expensive recruitment for top positions. We need high quality talent to help produce services that people depend on.

Earlier this month, we announced our initiative at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. With more than 31,000 local employees, Aurora Health Care is the largest private-sector employer in Wisconsin and has offered domestic partnership benefits to employees since 2005. In that time, Aurora has been a national health care leader, attracting some of the most talented health professionals in the world. 

A recent survey from Fuel Milwaukee of MMAC found that 52% of job seekers were more likely to accept a job offer if they knew that an employer offered domestic partnership benefits. Six of the ten Fortune 500 employers in the Milwaukee area offer similar benefits, including Johnson Controls, Kohl’s, Northwestern Mutual and Rockwell Automation.

The State of Wisconsin, City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Public Schools already provide domestic partnership health benefits for their employees.  One percent of the City of Milwaukee workforce has registered for this benefit, and Milwaukee County is expecting similar results.

According to the human resources firm Hewitt Associates, adding domestic partners to health benefits plans placed employers “no more at risk than when adding spouses” and reported an average cost increase of less than 1% to employers. A one percent increase in Milwaukee County would cost about $700,000.  It’s a fair price to pay for equal rights.

The proposed change would take effect in 2012 for same and opposite-sex domestic partners (who are certified via state requirements) and their dependents.  County Board Chairman Lee Holloway has referred the item to the Finance & Audit Committee and the Personnel Committee for further consideration. 

Supervisors Gerry Broderick, Peggy A. Romo West, Jason Haas, Nikiya Q. Harris, John F. Weishan, Jr., Willie Johnson, Jr., and Lynne De Bruin have joined us by co-sponsoring this resolution. County Executive Chris Abele has signaled that he will sign it.

This is about treating employees fairly and making civil rights gains in Milwaukee County. We are one of the last local governments not already offering this tool. The time for equality, justice and fairness is now, and the time to institute it is now.

4th District Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic represents Milwaukee’s Bay View and near south side neighborhoods.  10th District Supervisor Eyon Biddle, Sr., represents parts of downtown and Milwaukee’s north side.

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