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AIRLINE INDUSTRY Employees find themselves bumped as economy, Sept. 11 continue effect



Published: Sun, April 20, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



More than 115,000 airline workers have lost their jobs in the past two years, according to industry experts.

WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON -- As a boy, Aaron Bocknek had only one goal: to work in the airline industry. He spent Sunday afternoons with his father, watching jets take off and land at National Airport. He received his first subscription to Aviation Week & amp; Space Technology magazine as a birthday gift when he turned 7.

Bocknek landed that dream job and worked as a flight attendant for 17 years, most recently for US Airways. But US Airways went into bankruptcy in August, crippled by heavy operating costs and the post-Sept. 11 industry slowdown. Bocknek, now 42, lost his job in January.

Misses his job

He works at Target, where he earns $7.35 an hour, compared with $27 per flight hour at US Airways. He misses his old job -- not just the paycheck but also the glamour he associated with the industry.

"Jet fuel gets in your blood," Bocknek said. "Not a day goes by that I don't cry about the career that's been taken away from me, for no fault of my own."

More than 115,000 airline workers have lost their jobs in the past two years, and more cutbacks are looming, according to industry experts citing airline consolidation and work-rule changes. Now workers are coming to grips not only with a dismal job climate but also with the reality that they may never work again in the industry they love.

Roger Drinjak, a retired machinist with TWA, is a recruitment specialist for IAM Cares, an employee-assistance arm of the International Association of Machinists union. Of the 350 laid-off machinists he has counseled in the New York City area, none has found a job with comparable pay and benefits, he said.

"It's been bleak, and it is bleak," said Drinjak, who joined the machinists' job-search arm in July when he retired from TWA after 25 years. "Nobody is hiring. I've never seen it like this."

Unacceptable conditions

In past industry downturns, many machinists were able to work elsewhere as mechanics, Drinjak said. This time they're finding that wages in the field average about $12 an hour and health benefits are limited or nonexistent. Many workers are reluctant to accept positions on those terms, he said. Instead, they remain jobless, waiting fruitlessly for the mail to hold a certified letter that will tell them they have been recalled to work.

"It's a bitter pill," he said.

John Mazor, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, which has lost 7,800 members to layoffs from the 66,000 the industry employed on Sept. 11, 2001, said many displaced pilots are similarly waiting and hoping for a callback.

Others are painting houses, selling real estate, working retail jobs or back in school. Some have applied for jobs at foreign airlines, but many foreign carriers are cutting back, too, he said. Others are transporting packages or seeking jobs flying corporate jets.

"This is arguably the worst set of circumstances the industry has faced since the 1980s," he said. "People are having to reinvent themselves."

The federal government can provide training assistance, said Emily Stover DeRocco, assistant secretary for training and employment at the Department of Labor. Retraining funds are available through the national network of 1,900 one-stop career centers. She said many jobs are available in information technology, health care and financial services. The Labor Department has also forged new links with some employers, including Home Depot, Swift Transportation and Manpower, to help workers find jobs.

"It's not an easy process, but there are industries that continue to need workers," she said.

In the past, workers who were dislocated because industries had radically changed found they could find jobs at comparable wages by retraining and looking for work elsewhere, she said. Airline workers should be able to do the same, said DeRocco.

"They should not be discouraged," she said. "It's a difficult process, but there's help, resources and support."




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