Layoffs hit airline employees, workers in travel industry

Wednesday, September 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Carl Chambers' job crumbled with the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, and since, he has relied on his union and government help to make ends meet.

Chambers, 56, monitored elevators and escalators in the Twin Towers for contractor AMB, his employer for 27 years. He knew many, many employees in the towers, he said.

``I lost my family and my friends and my job,'' he said. ``I lost everything.''

Workers employed at or near the World Trade Center, by the airline industry and in other jobs related to travel, are feeling reverberations of Sept. 11. More than 100,000 layoffs have been announced in the airlines and related industries, and many of those workers are being let go without severance pay, health care and other benefits.

``I think there's a recognition that there is a crisis upon us,'' said AFL-CIO legislative director Bill Samuel.

Chambers' local of the Service Employees International Union represents 1,820 janitors, elevator operators, security guards, window washers and tour guides displaced by the attack that destroyed the World Trade Center and nearby buildings.

Twenty-six of the local's members were among more than 6,000 missing and presumed dead. Chambers said he was late for work on Sept. 11 and had not arrived when the hijacked jetliners struck the towers.

Union leaders met with employers after the attack and negotiated for those workers to receive six months of health and supplemental unemployment benefits.

``I'm waiting and hoping for the best, but I need to keep working,'' Chambers said.

Thousands of airline workers are getting pink slips without severance packages included in their union contracts. Carriers say there is a war emergency that justifies withholding those benefits.

Many employees at hotels and restaurants are nonunion and part-time and weren't promised severance benefits.

Layoffs could climb to 500,000 in industries related to the airlines and travel, said economist Mark Zandi of The nation's unemployment rate soared to 4.9 percent in August from 4.5 percent, the biggest one-month jump in more than six years.

More layoffs will take a toll on the economy because consumer spending has been keeping it from tipping into a recession.

``Almost everyone now is being touched by unemployment,'' Zandi said. ``You may not have lost your job, but you know someone who has.''

President Bush was considering ways Tuesday to help laid-off workers. One option under discussion was to extend unemployment benefits to workers caught in the aftermath of the attacks.

The economic output lost from the attack is expected to amount to some $25 billion in September alone. The air passenger and freight industry will take the biggest hit, losing almost $5 billion in the month, followed by the hotels and securities industries, Zandi said.

Congress approved a $15 billion bailout last week for the airline industry that includes nothing for the estimated 100,000 laid-off workers. Organized labor is pressing Congress for a relief package that would include health care coverage, extended unemployment benefits and job training for displaced workers.

A proposal by Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., is aimed at laid-off airline workers, and would extend employment benefits beyond 26 weeks and provide job training, health care coverage and relocation benefits.

Airlines, including American, Continental, Northwest, United and US Airways, have cited clauses in some of their labor contracts that void severance packages in emergencies, airlines and unions said.

Unions say they will fight for the benefits workers are guaranteed in contracts, such as severance pay, seniority benefits and relocation assistance.

``It's not for one side or another to unilaterally determine what that agreement means, says or which portions of it they'll honor or ignore,'' said International Association of Machinists spokesman Frank Larkin.

Northwest Airlines said it will not pay severance to laid-off workers. ``We believe the furloughs are allowable under a provision in our contract agreements,'' spokesman Doug Killian said Wednesday. ``We are looking at ways to assist our contract employees who are furloughed.''

AirTran Airways mechanics and other workers represented by the Teamsters union have agreed to a shorter work week and reduced compensation to avoid layoffs.

The Teamsters also represents airport food service workers, cargo handlers, curbside check-in employees and rental car workers, all of which are facing layoffs, said Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell.