Employees Mandy Moore and Lennell Flenorl use treadmills at Horseshoe casino in Hammond. (Horseshoe/Post-Tribune)
Employees Mandy Moore and Lennell Flenorl use treadmills at Horseshoe casino in Hammond. (Horseshoe/Post-Tribune)
Some of the area's largest employees have taken their benefits packages to a new, higher level as they seek to attract quality candidates in a changing and tightened workforce.

If the salary alone won't entice a prospective employee, some companies, including manufacturing giants BP and U.S. Steel, are sweetening the package for their nonunion employees with up to 12 weeks of paid maternity time off, infertility coverage and coverage for gender reassignment surgery.

While many of the expanded benefits are geared toward millennials, older workers might be drawn to a discounted membership to the YMCA or elder care assistance. Or perhaps having improved coverage for a child's autism spectrum disorder will be the deciding factor on where someone chooses to work.

According to company spokespersons contacted, their benefits packages are constantly evolving, reflecting a changing and more diverse society and workforce.

"We do continually look at our overall benefit package to ensure it meets the needs of our employees, especially the millennials and young graduates entering the workforce," BP spokesman Michael Abendhoff said.

Benefits for union workers at the local steel mills and BP are determined through negotiated collective bargaining agreements. The spokesman for United Steelworkers did not respond to a request for comment on its members' benefits packages.

Sweetening the deal

U.S. Steel announced late last month a number of new and enhanced benefits for its nonunion employees, which became available on April 1. The enhancements, the company said in a press release, are meant to support its diverse and inclusive workforce.

Both moms and dads can now receive up to an additional eight weeks paid time off following the birth of a child, placement of a child for foster care or adoption, in addition to the 6-8 weeks of short-term disability available.

The company also offers nonunion employees coverage for infertility treatments and medications, a dependent care flexible spending account match, up to 15 days bereavement leave for immediate family members and up to $4,000 for adoption expenses.

Healthcare would be continued for surviving eligible family members of employees fatally injured at work or in the line of duty while on military leave and additional medical coverage is offered for gender reassignment surgery.

"These benefits reflect our commitment to fostering a culture of caring at U.S. Steel, where every employee must feel supported," said Barry Meinkovic, senior vice president and chief human resources officer, in announcing the new perks.

At BP, recent benefit enhancements for nonunion employees include gender reassignment, 10-12 weeks of maternity paid time off, up to four weeks of paid time off for adoption and two weeks paid paternity leave.

Abendhoff said the company also offers backup child and elder care assistance, additional coverage for a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and support for college-bound students and their parents.

Horseshoe Hammond has upped the ante in its recruitment by offering an onsite wellness clinic and rewarding employees who proactively manage their health with discounts, according to Dawn Reynolds Pettit, regional vice president of human resources for Caesars Entertainment, parent of Horseshoe Hammond.

She said the company offers adoption assistance and this year introduced a parental leave benefit that offers four weeks of additional paid parental leave to a new mom or dad and includes birth, adoption and fostering.

Some benefits are geared toward quality of life.

Horseshoe employees can relax and catch up on emails in an employee lounge while on break, use an onsite workout room and game center and take advantage of employee discounts at the YMCA or day care centers.

While not giving specifics, William Steers, general manager of corporate responsibility for ArcelorMittal Americas, said the global steelmaker offers its salaried employees a competitive benefits package that includes wellness programs, tuition reimbursement, employee discounts, a wide variety of workplace skills and leadership development programs through ArcelorMittal University, in addition to healthcare, vacation, life and disability insurance and a 401(k) savings plan.

Steers said the company continually evaluates its benefit programs to ensure they're competitive.

"As consideration for what constitutes a competitive employee program continues to evolve, the company's employee benefits will also continue to evolve just as it has in the past," Steers said.

The driving force and payoff

Michael Olszanski, Indiana University Northwest's outreach coordinator for the Department of Labor Studies, said many of the enhanced benefits are being offered as a result of the tight labor market.

"The unemployment rate is real low. Companies are having a harder time attracting people than they used to," Olszanski said.

Other new benefits, such as gender reassignment surgery, he attributes to companies evolving with society.

"The idea of LBGTQ rights is relatively new. As a society we have evolved to recognize these types of issues. We've come a long way," he said.

A former steel worker who worked in a local mill for 33 years, Olszanski credited the labor movement for being a leader in recognizing minority groups, and more recently, the LBGTQ community.

Olszanski said Anne Balay, who taught a class at IUN, wrote a book in 2014 called Steel Closets in which she interviewed 40 gay, lesbian and transgender steel workers, most of whom lived in Northwest Indiana. It opened his eyes,

"I was in the mill for 33 years and I was never aware of any steel workers who were gay or transgender. It wasn't on my radar. They were in the closet," Olszanski said.

He said a resolution supporting the LBGTQ community was unanimously approved at a steel workers convention around 2014-2015.

Company spokespersons said they're always looking for new ways to support employees.

"To be successful, benefits absolutely have to advance and change to meet the needs of the changing workforce. As important, I feel, is the need to bridge the sometimes widening gap between home and work for individuals. If we can offer benefits that are both traditional (health, life, dental) and non-traditional (paid leaves, wellness services, community partnerships), we further cement our ability to have a workforce that is engaged, healthy and committed to the continued success of our business," Reynolds Pettit said.

She said the company has benefited from its benefits offerings, as well as the employees.

"They definitely help with retention and they are a huge asset when it comes to recruitment. We have a very active employee referral program and nearly 90% of the new hires who have been referred by current employees are retained beyond one year," Reynolds Pettit said.

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