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Two same-sex couples sue BNSF rail company over health benefits

BY GENE JOHNSON
ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEATTLE -- Two workers sued one of the nation's largest rail companies Tuesday, saying their same-sex spouses have repeatedly been denied health benefits even though gay marriage is legal in Washington state.

The lawsuit against BNSF Railway, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, alleges the company refused to add the spouses of locomotive engineer Michael Hall, of Pierce County, and conductor Amie Garrand, of Vancouver, to their plans.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit's specifics. But he said the company offers benefits to the same-sex spouses of salaried employees, as opposed to those covered by collective bargaining agreements.

"In terms of employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, BNSF does not have the ability to unilaterally expand coverage that was negotiated through multi-employer collective bargaining with rail labor organizations," Melonas said, reading a statement. "Such discussions have been ongoing with the various representatives of the parties involved."

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