Councilmembers approve equal benefits for gay contract workers

Minneapolis can't provide same-sex domestic benefits to its employees, but the City Council voted Dec. 13 to require companies doing city work to provide such perks for their workers.

The Council passed the requirement 8-4. Gary Schiff (9th Ward) -- who is the proposal's chief author -- is gay, as are co-authors councilmembers Scott Benson (11th Ward) and Robert Lilligren (8th Ward). Councilmembers Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) and Paul Zerby (2nd Ward) also co-sponsored the bill.

Contractors now must provide the same insurance benefits to gay couples that they provide married spouses. The proposal modifies city purchasing ordinances.

The law stresses the city's “fiscal responsibility” to work with companies providing the best services, suggesting that same-sex benefits are quality-driven.

Co-author Benson, a lawyer, emphasized the point. “People who provide the best services are those who are not going to exclude a large portion of the population from being employed by them,” he said. “In order to provide the best services, you should provide equal benefits.”

Councilmember Barret Lane (13th Ward), also an attorney, voted against the proposal. He said there was not a logical link between offering domestic partner benefits and getting the best workers. “It's not the issue, it's the methodology,” he said.

Prior to the meeting, Schiff said equal domestic benefits are a civil rights issue, and that was his main motivation.

“[T]he city should do business with companies that treat their gay and lesbian employees equally,” he said.

Schiff said the measure tilts toward eventual domestic partner benefits for city employees. Times have changed since the Legislature barred the practice in the 1990s.

“Most large employers in Minneapolis already have these benefits,” Schiff said.

The new rule will apply to most contractors performing $100,000 or more of work while employing more than 21 employees.

There would be a number of exemptions to the new rule. Schiff said union contracts would be exempt, as would religious and faith-based organizations.