See's Candy in San Francisco

This just in:

Hello Jordan,

Please find a statement below from Brad Kinstler, President and CEO of See’s Candies, that was issued today:

See’s Candies has always offered excellent employee benefits and supported the communities in which we do business. In an effort to ensure equal benefits for domestic partners, the same as for spouses, we have begun discussions with our unions to address domestic partner benefits offered to See’s employees. We are also committing to equal domestic partner benefits for non-union employees covered by See’s benefit plans.

We currently have eight different union contracts, with either the union or See’s providing health and welfare, retirement benefits, and sick/medical leaves to employees of See’s based on Collective Bargaining Agreements entered into between See’s, the unions and our employees. The change to non-union benefits will be effective immediately and we are hopeful that the union benefits can be adjusted as needed in the near future. While the benefits offered differ somewhat in the various contracts and non-union plans, the most common changes needed center around Family Leave, Sick Leave and Bereavement for domestic partners as well as for spouses and other family members.

Our intent is to offer employee benefits with domestic partner coverage equivalent to benefits offered to spouses in all states in which See’s Candies has employees.

Best regards,
Sarah

Sarah Siler
Account Supervisor
Murphy O’Brien Public Relations
Direct: (310) 586-7149
ssiler@murphyobrien.com

Hum. Okay, so it’s good that they want to try and fix the problem, right? But I guess this means that earlier statement, which included the following, was either a lie or incorrect?:

These benefits continue to be offered today to union and non-union employees of See’s.

Which is it? Did they offer non-union employees benefits, or didn’t they?

Also, who is this new contact, Sarah? Never heard from her before, but See’s was kind enough to give her my contact information. I’m going to e-mail back Sarah for a more complete answer.

Quick update: I received an e-mail from Diane from the Consumer Affairs Department mentioned previously. She states:

Hello Jordan,

I am writing to follow up on our previous e-mails (which I have pasted below). I wanted to let you know the careers section of our web site has been updated.

Diane Ihrig
See’s Candies
Consumer Affairs Department

… and wow, did they!

Here’s the OLD version of their site:

See’s Candies is dedicated to providing a positive work environment where each individual is challenged to achieve their best. As an Equal Opportunity Employer, we welcome applications from qualified candidates without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, or religious preference.

Here’s the NEW version of their site (highlighted words are new):

See’s Candies is dedicated to providing a positive work environment where each individual is challenged to achieve their best. As an Equal Opportunity Employer, we welcome applications from qualified candidates without regard to race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, national origin, ancestry, age, medical condition, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, identity, military service or any other classification protected by state, federal and local laws and ordinances.

Yeah, I think they pretty much hit everything. But now the question is whether these words are enough? As our community has learned with Obama, talk is cheap. It’s still unclear as to whether they’re providing full benefits to their corporate office employees and we’re also left scratching our heads over why they’d deny the San Francisco Human Rights Commission access to information that might clear them of any wrong-doing?

I’ll follow up with the SF HRC and see what we can do about getting a re-review. More information as it becomes available…

UPDATE: I might pass this on to See’s Consumer Affairs Department! “5 Steps for Successful Social Media Damage Control

I also called See’s Candy to ask them about the closure of their Union Square store. I spoke to Diane who was kind enough to read me the press release from their president but didn’t have much information regarding which specific benefits didn’t comply with San Francisco’s Equal Rights Ordinance.

The San Francisco Human Rights Commission helped develop the policy and is the branch of the city in charge of reviewing contracts and implementation of the Equal Rights Ordinance. I spoke with Larry Brinkin, who was kind enough to find the city’s records on See’s Candies and scour through the notes compiled from their June review.

According to the notes, there are two standing issues with their current policy. The first is that the SFHRC was told by See’s that their northern California corporate office does not provide equal benefits. The second issue is that See’s only provided partial documentation of benefits for their unionized workers. San Francisco has no way of determining whether or not benefits are being provided equally without seeing the documentation that spells out how, exactly, all their benefits are defined and distributed. Without the supporting documentation, See’s Candy was seen as not complying with the Equal Rights Ordinance and lost their lease in Union Square.

Afterwards, I called Diane again, told what I had learned, and asked if she had any additional information. She did not, but said she would pass the information along and would contact me if any new information was provided.

Now, a few caveats. If their corporate office in northern California does not provide equal benefits, that does not mean they don’t provide any benefits. That in no way let’s See’s off the hook, but it does place the burden of proof firmly on them. If they’re not providing equal benefits, which benefits are lacking? Why not provide them?

It also raises questions about their refusal to provide documentation. Are there onerous requirements to be considered a domestic partner with See’s? Are their definitions of domestic partnerships exclusive to same-sex couples and not all domestic partners? I don’t know. Perhaps it lies in their Equal Opportunity Employer hiring practices, which currently does not list sexual orientation.

See’s Candy now needs to clarify whether or not they provide equal benefits in their corporate office, and if not why, and when will they? They also need to answer why they did not provide full documentation to the SFHRC, and if they would have violated the Equal Rights Ordinance if they had.

Hopefully, See’s will answer these questions soon.

*If you’re just joining, start at the bottom of this page and work your way up. Like all blogs, the posts are in reverse chronological order, with the most recent being at the top :)

Had not yet heard back from Diane with a contact number, so I just called them back and asked for Diane. Was transferred to her. She told me Jessica was the one I spoke with originally, but she (Diane) was the one who sent me the e-mail.

I said I wanted to ask a question to get some clarification, and asked if she could help with that. She said to go ahead and she would see. I read her the statement from See’s Careers page, as follows:

See’s Candies is dedicated to providing a positive work environment where each individual is challenged to achieve their best. As an Equal Opportunity Employer, we welcome applications from qualified candidates without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, or religious preference.

(thanks Seth!). I requested that she clarify what their commitment is to ensuring equal opportunity without regard for sexual orientation, when they’re offering Domestic Partner Benefits. She told me that she didn’t have an answer, and would have to pass this on. She said Jessica had opened a comment file for me, and that those comments are read by people in upper management. She said they had my contact information and would contact me if anything came up.

I told her that this story was getting a lot of traction on Twitter, and other social media sites. I said that I’m trying to to ascertain exactly what’s going on, so that the company isn’t hung out to dry without undue cause. She said they appreciated that, but had no further information for me. I reiterated that it’s in their best interest to find a way to respond to this quickly, as it will spread very fast.

Feel free to open up your own comment file, by calling 800-895-7337, and pushing option #3. When a rep comes on the line, advise that you want See’s to clarify their commitment to Equal Opportunity regardless of sexual orientation.

I will continue to update if I hear anything else. Twitter is also abuzz with this.

UPDATE, 04:19pm: Received the following e-mail:

Hello,

I appreciated talking with you and receiving the additional information about the careers section of our web site. I will forward your comments on to upper management for their review. If I may be of further assistance, please let me know.

Again, thank you for your interest in See’s Candies.

Diane Ihrig
See’s Candies
Consumer Affairs Department

See’s Candy, per their website “are well known and loved throughout the West where the company was founded in 1921. See’s is headquartered in South San Francisco, California.”

On June 19th, the San Francisco Examiner posted an article called “See’s Candies vacates Union Square“. According to the article, the See’s Candy kiosk “was not providing all of the same benefits for domestic partners that it does for spouses.” It also states that See’s decided not to change it’s policy to comply with the city, and thus vacated.

Today, EQCA posted, on their “Ripple Effect” blog, an article called “Candy company chooses closure over equality“. Seeing this, I decided to investigate.

I contacted See’s, using their Customer Service phone number listed on their site. That number is 800-895-7337. You push 3, then a rep will pick up. I requested to speak with someone about the closure of the store in Union Square. DianeJessica picked up. She said they had a press release from the CEO prepared, and asked me if I’d like to have her read it. I asked her to please do so, and e-mail it to me. The statement is as follows:

See’s Candies was mentioned in an article in the San Francisco Examiner written by Katie Worth that was published on June 19, 2009. We first learned of the article on Monday June 22nd. The article is factually untrue and the inaccuracies are being addressed with the Examiner to solicit a retraction. For years See’s Candies has provided domestic partner benefits including health insurance, with some of these benefits negotiated in labor agreements with unions representing See’s workers. These benefits continue to be offered today to union and non-union employees of See’s. Recently, our Union Square location lease was taken over by the City of San Francisco who has additional requirements for benefits beyond those offered by See’s. As any change to the benefits offered would require opening all related union contracts for negotiation, and the added benefits required were relatively minor and not consistent with our overall benefit plan, See’s attempted to seek a compromise with the City on its required benefit package. Unable to agree, and not wishing to renegotiate the union benefits offered to a single store in San Francisco, we elected to not renew our Union Square lease when it expired. See’s was not “evicted”, and we do offer health and welfare coverage for domestic partners on the same basis as for spouses. The allegations in the article were not discussed with See’s prior to the article being run.

We hope this story will soon be retracted. Thank you for your interest in See’s Candies.

Diane Ihrig (ackreply@sees.com)
See’s Candies
Consumer Affairs Department

Notice near the end, “on the same basis as for spouses“.

Wanting to know more about what exactly the requirements were from the city of San Francisco, I called the city’s 311 phone number (415.701.2311, if you’re outside SF like I am). I was told that the department that handles this is the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. Their phone number is 415.554.6235. This goes directly to a voicemail, so I left my phone number requesting a call back.

Just because I’m like that, I also found the number for Donna Levitt, this department’s Division Manager. That number is 415.554.6239, but I did not leave her a message. Other department contact numbers are here.

Seth Fowler, on Twitter, notes that See’s own website does not mention anything about Sexual Orientation on their Careers page. See below:

See’s Candies is dedicated to providing a positive work environment where each individual is challenged to achieve their best. As an Equal Opportunity Employer, we welcome applications from qualified candidates without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, disability, or religious preference.

I responded to Diane’s e-mail and asked her to provide me with a direct contact number, so I could ask further questions about their policy on LGBT non-discrimination. I am waiting for a response.

Comments are open, below.

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