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Rising to the occasion.

After two years of turbulence, United Airlines has made a surprisingly soft--and fast--landing in its bitter suit with the city of San Francisco over domestic-partner benefits. In a sudden turnabout, the carrier announced that it will offer full domestic-partner benefits to its gay employees and less extensive benefits to unmarried heterosexual partners. The policy shift, which will affect 97,000 employees worldwide starting next May, came just hours after an appeals court refused to exempt the firm from the city ordinance mandating the benefits.

On the heels of the United decision--a breakthrough in the industry--American Airlines announced it would become the second carrier to offer domestic-partner benefits, also beginning next spring. "We have changed the world," said jubilant San Francisco supervisor Mark Leno. Indeed, the city's victory now has travelers and airline employees wondering whether other carriers in the fiercely competitive field can afford to ignore United's lead.

These announcements follow two years of legal wrangling between the Air Transport Association, which represents all major airlines, and San Francisco. The airlines oppose a 1997 law requiring companies entering into new deals with the city to offer the same benefits to employees' domestic partners as they do to employees' spouses. United became a lightning rod in the battle because it was the first major airline to enter negotiations to renew its airport lease after the law was passed. Last May a federal judge told the airlines they had to offer some benefits, but the airlines sought an exemption. The July 30 ruling rejected that request, but the appeal is ongoing.

"This case has never been about gay and lesbian rights," said United chairman and CEO James Goodwin. "What we oppose--and what we will continue to oppose--are local municipalities intruding upon the federal domain by attempting to legislate the employee-benefits package of companies like airlines doing business nationwide."

Although an ATA spokesman said its members will comply with the law, the lease for another large carrier, Delta Airlines, doesn't expire until 2007. Change may come sooner than that, however. Deputy city attorney Adrienne Go said construction at the airport, including a new international terminal, may require updated contracts.



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Title Annotation:domestic-partner benefits for United Airlines employees
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 31, 1999
Previous Article:Rants & raves.
Next Article:The Nation.

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