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AP

Stellantis to offer domestic partner benefits for 14K salaried employees

To Doug Furgason, it's important for his company to embrace inclusivity.

That's why he's pleased that Stellantis will once again offer domestic partner benefits in addition to spousal benefits for its non-bargaining U.S. employees.

"This is the company recognizing that there are other aspects and ways that people are living, and we should have the same benefits," said Furgason, whose job at the automaker involves managing packaging and logistics of exported parts.

Domestic partner benefits were in place for employees with same-sex partners until 2015.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that year that made gay-marriage legal across the country was a victory for gay rights, but it also led many companies, including automakers, to end domestic partner benefits in favor of spousal benefits for their employees with same-sex partners.

When the program is reinstated Jan. 1, however, it will also be offered to employees with opposite-sex partners, which was not the case previously. The company, which formed in January from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Peugeot maker PSA Group, said approximately 14,000 salaried employees in the United States will be eligible.

"Providing domestic partner benefits to all eligible employees despite their partner status embodies our company's purpose and values and enables us to meet the needs of a diverse and dynamic workforce and the expectations of prospective employees," Dana Keefer, head of human resources for Stellantis-North America, said in a news release.

The announcement Monday coincides with National Coming Out Day, when the company will also light the Pentastar purple at the top of its tower off I-75 in Auburn Hills through Oct. 21. The purple lighting has become an annual tradition for the automaker.

Furgason said that when the company demonstrates support outwardly for the LGBTQ community, including its sponsorship of last month's Motor City Pride annual parade and festival, it sends a message that those employees are welcome.

"People are going to bring their best work when they feel comfortable and they don't have to carry any other burdens or anything like that," he said.

Furgason, 32, is co-chair of the company's Prism business resource group for LGBTQ+ employees. He is gay and single and lives with his pit bull, Ruth, in Clawson.

Furgason said he won't be taking advantage of the domestic partner benefit now, but it's important to offer.

"As a society there's many different reasons why you might be in a domestic partnership," Furgason said. "I do feel like we're seeing less of an importance placed on marriage."

Furgason has been with the company for five years. Growing up, he said, he didn't "have as much exposure to positive queer examples" and viewed success then as marrying a woman and starting a family. Now he sees success differently and believes it's important to promote other positive images.

Lottie Holland, the director of diversity, inclusion and engagement for Stellantis-North America, said the company has research showing that 7% of U.S. adults are living with an unmarried partner.

"Things are changing, and we want to be at the forefront of that change," she said.

In such a competitive labor market, companies are also searching for ways to stand out, and Holland said she expects the domestic partner benefits to be of interest to candidates.

"We want to be able to attract and retain top talent, so these will be some of the benefits that that top talent will be expecting so this is our way to meet that," she said.

She said she expects other automakers to follow suit. Like Stellantis, Ford and GM offer spousal benefits, except where state law would make domestic partners eligible.

Holland said the program would include "all of the benefits that we would afford to a legally married couple."

Active employees must meet a number of eligibility requirements, such as being in a committed relationship for at least a year, living in the same home and being jointly responsible for welfare and financial obligations.

Specific benefits would include medical, dental, vision, life insurance, paid parental leave, relocation assistance in the United States and company vehicle leases.

The program will be limited to non-bargaining employees when it is launched because UAW-represented employees are in the midst of their current contract. Holland said the company is "looking forward to having the discussion with the UAW" during the next round of contract talks.

"This is definitely an area of consideration and a point of topic with the UAW in 2023," she said.

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