The newly merged ExxonMobil Corp. has just taken a giant step backward by discontinuing benefits to domestic partners.
ExxonMobil announced recently that it will end Mobil's previous practice of providing benefits to the domestic partners of gay or lesbian employees. Current workers who had the benefits from Mobil will get to keep them, but anyone hired after November -- and longtime Mobil employees who begin new relationships -- is out of luck.
Ending domestic-partner benefits is not only unfair, it also bucks industry trends. The move is the precise opposite of that taken by another recently merged oil company, BP Amoco.
When British Petroleum, which hadn't provided domestic-partner benefits, merged with Amoco, which did, the new company took the high road and announced it would extend the benefits to all its workers.
Other major oil companies like Shell and Chevron have also moved to provide benefits for domestic partners.
And that's not all: At least 3,000 other firms, including nearly 80 Fortune 500 companies, are providing domestic-partner benefits. These companies include Kodak, IBM, United Airlines, the Walt Disney Co. and Microsoft.
As of Jan. 1, CBS is joining the ranks of companies doing the right thing.
When CBS made its announcement last month, Vice President for Human Resources David Zemelman said the action "reflects our belief that diversity is vital to achieving our goal of competing for the best talent; it's consistent with the notion that we welcome and value all people without regard to differences in sexual orientation."
It's also a matter of simple fairness.
If a co-worker and I do the same job and get the same salary, but his spouse gets company-paid health insurance and my spouse doesn't, we aren't receiving equal pay for equal work. That's discrimination.
ExxonMobil's tortured explanations for the move haven't helped.
In a recent New York Times article, company spokesman Tom Cirigliano said, "It's our opinion that basing benefits coverage on a legally recognized relationship eliminates the need for the company to establish criteria of its own for which to establish the legitimacy of any relationship, whether it's gay or straight."
But marriage isn't an option for gays and lesbians anywhere in the United States. Only heterosexuals have that option, so no straight people will be harmed by the policy.
As for the alleged problem of establishing eligibility standards, if Disney, Coors and Shell can handle it, so can ExxonMobil.
ExxonMobil's great leap backward will not help the company. It will alienate many talented employees or potential employees. And it will lose favor with consumers who recognize bigotry when they see it.
Someday after more companies recognize the simple fairness of domestic-partnership benefits, the oil giant will have to budge.
Bruce Mirken is a free-lance writer living in San Francisco.He can be reached at pmproj(at)progressive.org, or by writing to Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main St., Madison, Wis. 53703.