By Jayne O'Donnell , USA TODAY
In what the largest gay rights group calls an "historic move,"
Walmart told employees Monday that it would extend its health and other
benefits to "domestic partners," including those of the same sex.
largest U.S. employer made the announcement quietly in a postcard it
sent to employees that listed five other changes in benefits, including a
new vision plan.
Research by the Human Rights Campaign shows 62%
of Fortune 500 companies already offer health benefits to domestic
partners. But the Supreme Court's June decision overturning part of a
federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex
partners, has heightened attention on same-sex benefits.
also comes as other employers change their coverage in the face of
increased costs under the new federal healthcare law known as Obamacare.
and the University of Virginia last week announced plans to drop
coverage for employee's spouses if they are covered by their own
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it is among the corporate laggards on domestic partner coverage, HRC's
president heralded Walmart's decision. Chad Griffin even worked at his
local Arkansas Walmart as a teen.
"I am moved by my former
employer's historic action that further proves equality is good
business," Griffin said in an emailed statement. Walmart "has sent a
cultural signal that equality for LGBT (lesbian, gay bisexual and
transgender) people is the simplest of mainstream values and we look
forward to continuing to work with them."
Griffin says Walmart has
worked to improve their score on the group's "corporate equality
index." Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove says the company had been
working to better define what a domestic partner is and that the Supreme
Court's decision helped prompt its move.
Partners of Walmart
employees can be of the same or opposite sex and married or unmarried,
as long as they've been "living together in an ongoing exclusive"
relationship for at least 12 months and intend to stay that way says
Hargrove. Still, Hargrove says "no proof is required today to enroll a
Lucas Handy, an openly gay former Walmart associate from
Fort Dodge, Iowa, says "it shocked me completely" when he heard of the
change in Walmart's benefits.
"It would be great if the company kept their promise on this," he says.
he added that the change may be little relief to workers who struggle
to work enough hours to become eligible for health care coverage and to
pay the high deductibles. Handy says he was no longer eligible for
healthcare after being moved from a full-time customer service position
to a part-time pharmacy technician job, but would have had difficulty
affording it anyway.
"The real issue with Walmart's healthcare is
that most of us are unable to afford the coverage," says Handy, who says
he made $8.95 an hour.
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg says Handy
was fired after a series of policy violations. Handy says he was fired
by Walmart in July for speaking out about the company's labor practices.
He is collecting unemployment and volunteering for the labor
union-backed group OUR Walmart.
Hargrove says the company is
testing how to make it easier for employees to see what shifts are
available when they want more hours. He says employees need to be with
the company a year and work an average of 30 hours a week to become
eligible for healthcare coverage.