Employee matters

April 17, 2001
This new column will address campuswide employment issues. Send your questions to: wisweek@news.wisc.edu Questions and answers about domestic partner benefits

Collective bargaining and employee compensation planning are under way for the next budget biennium. One issue sure to resurface is some workers’ desire to obtain health insurance coverage for domestic partners — currently not allowed under state law. The Teaching Assistants Association and Department of Employment Relations, for example, have started bargaining over a new contract, and creation of a reimbursement plan for the domestic partners of TAs and PAs is one of the TAA proposals. Here are some questions and answers on the issue:

Q: What benefits, if any, already are extended to domestic partners?
A: “Soft benefits” such as access to libraries, recreational facilities and the Wisconsin Union are already extended to domestic partners. But there is no campus-wide requirement to do so. A working group is looking at creating a campuswide domestic-partnership policy for these benefits. The proposed policy is based on a UW-La Crosse policy. Visit: http://perth.uwlax.edu/hr/Domestic Partnership.htm.

Q: Why doesn’t the university create its own plan to reimburse faculty and staff for the insurance costs of domestic partners, up to the amount that a married employee would get?
A: UW–Madison doesn’t have power to create its own reimbursement plan. Employees who are represented by unions would have to get such a plan through collective bargaining with the state. For non-represented employees, such as faculty and academic staff, such a plan would require approval of the Board of Regents, the Secretary of the Department of Employment Relations and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations.

Q: How does the university go about getting health coverage for partners?
A: UW–Madison and the UW System both have recommended a change in state law to allow domestic partners to obtain health insurance coverage rather than a reimbursement plan. Such a measure would have to make it into the compensation plan for faculty and academic staff that is prepared by state employment relations officials for legislative review and approval. A comprehensive solution — treating domestic partners the same as married spouses — requires action by the Legislature.

Q: Is this an important issue to the university? Are there ways in which the university can and will push for this?
A: This is an important issue for UW–Madison, says Steve Lund, director of the Academic Personnel Office. “We want to be able to meet the needs of all employees; clearly, providing health insurance to an employee’s partner is an important need,” Lund says. “For the past several biennia, UW–Madison has included in our compensation plan recommendations that domestic partners be covered by the state’s health insurance program.” Likewise, UW System has included domestic partner health insurance coverage in its compensation plan recommendations to the state. Ultimately, though, state agency and elected officials make the decision.