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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 47
UFCW 21 announces new Trans health benefits
Section One
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UFCW 21 announces new Trans health benefits

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21 has announced that its largest employee insurance trust, Sound Health and Wellness, will now include full medical services for Transgender union members.

UFCW 21 is the largest private-sector union in the state, with 44,000 members in the grocery, food processing, retail, and healthcare industries.

The change in healthcare coverage applies to more than 23,000 of the union's members, 'everybody in our grocery stores and some of our healthcare members, plus their spouses and kids,' according to UFCW 21 spokesperson Tom Geiger.

'It includes all medically necessary treatment for Transgender individuals, including surgery. Twenty years from now this will be a nonissue, and I'm proud our union will have a role in making it a nonissue.'

'This is a really big deal,' said UFCW 21 member Lilian Queen. 'Just to have one of the largest unions in the state say 'Trans' out loud is a big deal.'

Queen moved to the Seattle area from Florida in September 2014 and now works at a Safeway in Skyway. She began her transition just before moving, although she had known for a long time that she was a woman.

'People think there are so few of us,' she told the SGN. 'They think 'why should I care about a few people.' A lot of us are invisible. You might think you're meeting a male coworker - but no!'

Although she does not plan to have surgery, Queen says the additional insurance coverage is important to the community.

'Most insurance companies say it's just cosmetic surgery, and now we can say 'no, it's necessary,' ' she explains. 'And so many Trans people end up in retail. Back in Florida I worked at Kmart and Winn-Dixie. Of course there was no union so we didn't have any representation. In the South, Trans people are kind of a hyperminority.'

Queen told the SGN that she's glad she's now a union member.

'When I first got here I had a lot of questions from coworkers,' she recalled. 'Trans people, sometimes we become a spectacle. People ask all kinds of questions. Your privacy is gone.

'I had a big problem with one of my coworkers. He was just really obnoxious. HR investigated, and then the union rep stepped in and talked with everybody and solved the problem.

'I was glad, actually, that he had representation too,' she added.

UFCW 21 has a long history of addressing LGBT issues. It was one of the first unions to offer same-sex domestic partners equal benefits to those afforded to opposite-sex married spouses. In 2012, the union played an important role in the R-74 marriage equality campaign, hosting Washington United for Marriage in its Georgetown union headquarters.

In July, UFCW 21 presented a resolution at the annual Washington State Labor Council convention committing all the WSLC's affiliated unions to removing discriminatory exclusions from their healthcare policies and to bargaining for Trans-inclusive contracts.

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