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Heated Debate Over Domestic Partners Benefits

by Christiana Lilly
Wednesday May 8, 2013

The vice mayor told SFGN that domestic partnership have not been included in the city's insurance plan because "labor has not asked for that benefit on behalf of their employees."

A heated debate at Pembroke Pines City Hall turned into an online back and forth battle between a local activist and the city's vice mayor.

During the city commission meeting on April 17, Commissioner Iris Siple filed a motion that would allow domestic partners to be included on the city's health insurance plan for employees, something that "should have been acted upon long before now," she said, adding that Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Broward Sheriff's Office and Broward County offer this to its employees, among others locally.

She also laid out how inexpensive the costs would be to the city.

It took 30 minutes from Siple reading the motion to finally vote unanimously for the city manager to research it, with plenty of back patting in between (relive the magic here:

However, it was what local activist Michael Rajner called "grandstanding" and "sounding like a king throwing scraps to the common person" by Vice Mayor Angelo Castillo when he blamed the unions for holding up equality in the city. The vice mayor, who was the CEO of Broward House for nine years, spoke for about five minutes about how the issue has not come forward in the past because unions had never done so.

"People have been talking to me about why we don't have this in place, and the answer has always consistently been that in this city there has been a pattern in practice that goes back many, many years... that anything having to do with compensation or benefits comes forward to us from labor," Castillo said at the meeting. "In the bucket of money that we could use to benefit labor, each of them has their own agenda as we all know about how those dollars should be used."

Later, Castillo went on Facebook and posted the topic for friends and followers to discuss, claiming that "labor only favors it if the city pays the entire bill - without staff chipping in - making that one benefit unlike any other we offer."

Oddly enough, when public comments were allowed at the meeting, a representative from both the police and fire unions voiced support for the move.

"Instead of focusing on giving the city manager the clear direction on what information to collect and its reason," Rajner told SFGN, "Castillo instead held the commission hostage and forcing a conversation and grandstanding on who should pay for the benefits."

The vice mayor told SFGN that domestic partnership have not been included in the city's insurance plan because "labor has not asked for that benefit on behalf of their employees." He added that he hopes to see this change in the coming months.

"The domestic partner employees I have spoken to have no problem at all and are indeed eager to provide an employee contribution for benefits just like all city employees do. It appears to be labor unions that object and some advocates which makes no sense."

Rajner took to his email and wrote a long letter to Castillo.

"You could have stepped forward as a leader and added to the conversation on how important in 2013 it is to create for non-traditional families entry points to critical benefits needed to provide for their family," Rajner wrote to Castillo in an email. "The time and place for the conversation you raised this week is when the city manager in June, Pride month, reviews his research with the city commission."

Castillo responded back quickly, continuing the conversation on how equality means equality, and that those with domestic partners should also have to pay their share, just like employees currently do, and wrote that Rajner was "attacking me for trying to get this right."

The exchange went back and forth for the rest of the day, with Castillo adding that "I will still demand that labor confirm their commitment to equal participation on the record. Specially, I want proof from each labor union individually."

Tim Ross, president of the Dolphin Democrats, chimed in on Castillo's Facebook and wrote that "labor is not asking the city to pay the entire bill, labor is not asking the city anything."

The email exchange continued into the next day until Castillo told Rajner he had said everything he needed on the issue. Rajner concluded with "I warned everyone that you would find a way to manipulate the situation and exploit it to find a way to grandstand on the matter. Thanks for proving me correct!"

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