The law would apply to service contracts that amount to at least $250,000.
Councilwoman-at-Large Blondell Reynolds-Brown was scheduled Thursday to introduce an ordinance that would require certain city contractors to offer domestic-partner benefits to their employees that are equal to the plans they offer heterosexual married couples.
Reynolds-Brown explained that such contracts could likely apply to agencies offering janitorial, security or similar services.
San Francisco was the first city to institute a law that mandated city contractors offer domestic-partner benefits in 1996, and several others, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Miami and Atlanta, have since followed.
In 2006, a New York appeals court overturned a similar law passed by the New York City Council.
Reynolds-Brown noted that in 2008, the Liberty City Democratic Club conducted a survey in which its members expressed considerable interest in this issue.
“We thankfully had access to that information and we, as legislators, looked to where we might be able to have the opportunity to make a difference — because that’s why we’re supposed to be here — in the lives of different citizens,” Reynolds-Brown said. “So we knew there was an interest in this raised by members of the LGBT community, so it became an issue of importance for us to look around and research this issue.”
Reynolds-Brown said she learned of the several other jurisdictions that already adopted such a law and was eager for “Philadelphia to get in line with these other cities.”
She said the initiative also has a somewhat personal aspect.
“As a female and an African-American, I feel that it behooves me to be mindful and sensitive to those issues that still require room for equity and fairness, and this is certainly one of them,” she said.
Reynolds-Brown said the $250,000 figure was chosen as a “baseline,” one that is common for contracting rules.
As written, the legislation does not apply to subcontractors, an area Reynolds-Brown said should be reviewed once the original legislation is enacted, as should contracts for goods and products.
According to the legislation, if a contractor’s existing agreement with its benefits provider does not allow for the extension of domestic-partner benefits, the contractor would have to make arrangements to create such a plan “as soon as practical,” and no later than one year after the initiation of the contract. Companies that do not already offer benefits to the married spouses of their employees are exempt.
Companies can verify a life partnership by accepting a couple’s city-approved life-partnership certification or, if the employee is not a city resident, other evidence of an interdependent relationship comparable to the requirements for the city certification. Additionally, a marriage, civil union or domestic-partnership document from any state or country undertaken legally by two men or two women would be acceptable.
When making a bid for a contract, the business must supply a certification that it would comply with the domestic-partner provision and, if selected for a contract, must certify that such benefits will be offered and that it has notified employees of the domestic-partner extension.
The city would be authorized to waive the domestic-partner extension if it would result in the loss of federal, state or other funds, would interfere with a collective-bargaining agreement or if such a waiver would be “in the best interests of the city.”
Companies that do not cooperate would be suspended from bidding on city contracts for up to three years.
Any contractor employees who request but don’t receive the benefits can file private action against the company to recover those healthcare costs incurred by their life partner during the period of non-compliance, or for the amount the contractor would have paid for such benefits. In addition, complainants can seek punitive damages up to $2,000, attorney’s fees and, if the employee was terminated because of retaliation for a complaint, reinstatement.
As of press time, Reynolds-Brown had not yet introduced the measure and begun generating a list of cosponsors but said she was certain she’d find support.
The councilwoman said the measure should be scheduled for a committee vote in the next few months, and she hopes to get it passed and to the mayor by early May.
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.