The vote, 3-1 against the proposal, came just one month after commissioner Lawrence Molloy asked the port to consider adopting the same policy as the city of Seattle, which has required equal benefits from contractors since 1999, according to a Seattle Times report.
Under the domestic benefits proposal, contractors who do business with the port would be required to provide the same health care benefits to domestic partners of employees as those received by married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. The port has provided equal benefits to its 1,649 employees since 1994.
However, the three dissenting commissioners held that the port’s role is to encourage economic development and trade, not tell contractors how to run their businesses. Officials at the port had previously questioned the authority of the agency to enforce the proposed policy and had concerns about possible conflicts with some labor contracts.
Further, the agency was concerned that passing such a regulation may conflict with federal regulations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Airline groups had urged the Port of Seattle not to adopt these policies, thereby creating a patchwork of conflicting regulations from airport to airport.
“It would be impossible and impractical to adhere to … possibly contradictory local ordinances,” said Jan Fisher, a vice president of Alaska Airlines and a representative of the Air Transport Association.
Supporters Not Impressed
Supporters dismissed the concerns, pointing to the port’s current enforcement of state and federal environmental regulations and prevailing wage laws in contracts. Others argued the port had an obligation to support equal benefits, especially because many contractors enjoy taxpayer support.
Seattle was the second city in the nation to require contractors to extend benefits to couples that met its definition of domestic partners. This definition requires partners to sign a notarized statement testifying the two are:
- involved in a “relationship of mutual support, caring and commitment”
- not related by blood closer than would bar marriage in the state of Washington
- each other’s sole domestic partners
- both over 18 years old.