Stability turns to anxiety for couples employed by airline


Dec 17, 2002
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Stability turns to anxiety for couples employed by airline

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Mary and Tom Gallant
Steven Adams/Tribune-Review

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Lunchtime at the Schott household
Joe Wojcik/Tribune-Review

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The Schotts
Joe Wojcik/Tribune-Review

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Imagine you've worked at only one company your entire career. You've put in two, maybe three decades. You've got teens going to college, a $1,200-a-month mortgage and a truck with more than 100,000 miles on it.
Now, the company is threatening to close up shop and the market isn't exactly ripe for finding a new job.
Imagine your spouse works for the same company.
For the couples who are among the 9,000 remaining US Airways employees in southwestern Pennsylvania, life is a daily struggle of shrinking salaries, increasing hours away from home and uncertainty over jobs once thought to be safe.
It is harder because we've got everything in one basket, said Marcy Schott, an 18-year passenger-service agent whose husband, Randy, is a mechanic with the airline. We could both be out of jobs, and there are a ton of us like that in the company.
US Airways and the unions that represent workers don't have any numbers on how many couples are tied to the airline. Anecdotally, employees can easily rattle off friends, relatives, even ex-spouses who are married to other US Airways workers.
US Airways does not consider an employee's marital status when it makes layoffs, said spokesman David Castelveter.
Teddy Xidas, president of the Association of Flight Attendants Local 40, estimated that of its 5,700 members left in the region, about 18 percent -- roughly 1,000 people -- are married to other company workers.
Unlike office workers or others with 9-to-5 jobs, airline employees work in a very contained environment, Xidas said. Close relationships form quickly.
Things start to happen, and people get married, she said. But now, any concessions are going to affect them both. It's a double hit.
US Airways' remaining employees have seen a 5 percent cut in pay because of the war in Iraq on top of cuts made last year when the airline filed for bankruptcy. Their health insurance costs have increased.
And still the threat looms that the airline may shut down its Pittsburgh operations.
Married flight attendants say they are paying a particularly heavy price.
Tom and Mary Gallant have been married for almost 20 years. They've been flight attendants with US Airways even longer.
Between the 8.5 percent salary cut their union agreed to last year and this year's 5 percent cut because of the war, the couple have seen their combined salaries drop by about $1,000 a month. They've also had to add extra days to their schedule because of the concessions.
With four children ranging in age from 3 to 17, the Gallants have had less time for their family and each other. Mary works Thursday evenings through Sunday; Tom works Monday through Thursday mornings.
There is a tremendous strain on our marriage, said Tom Gallant, 50. But we made the choice 25 years ago. It's something we have to deal with.
Trying to gather all of the family in one place at one time, especially the parents, is akin to coordinating the hundreds of jets that take off or land at Pittsburgh International Airport every day.
You're so stressed out all the time with the kids and the job, said Mary Gallant, 43. I feel it more this year than ever before. We're working more days. There's just not enough time.
The Findlay Township family has become good at not buying anything they do not need. Tom Gallant, a township supervisor who is running for re-election in November, still drives his 1991 jalopy, a Toyota pickup whose bumper is attached to the body by heavy tape so it would pass state inspections.
I can't commit to a car loan right now, he said.
Particularly since their eldest daughter, Daniella, is preparing to go to Duquesne University this fall and two of their other children are in Catholic school. After the last round of airline cuts over the summer, the family asked the Diocese of Pittsburgh for help to keep their children enrolled.
The diocese gave them a 15 percent discount on tuition.
Mary Gallant, who grew up in Pittsburgh, has worked at US Airways since she was 19. Back then, the airline's jobs beckoned families -- much like those at steel mills. Her brother began working at US Airways a year after she did, and another brother worked as a flight attendant until he was laid off recently.
Despite her family's belt-tightening, I don't want to give it up, she said of her job. But it's hard. I don't want to go back in time. I want to go forward. ... Everything goes up except our paycheck.
Craig and Deborah Nagel, another set of married flight attendants, have been learning to stretch their thinning paychecks over the last year.
Deborah Nagel has even found a new best friend: Suze Orman, the no-nonsense finance diva who has penned several books and hosts a television show on CNBC.
She's wonderful, said Deborah Nagel, a 23-year US Airways veteran. She talks about saving money and making money and what type of funds you should invest in.
The couple scan financial pages and any book that offers tips on saving, from cutting back on $3 lattes to diversifying their 401(k) plans. They're scrambling, especially after Deborah lost $100,000 in US Airways stock that plummeted from $30 a share to about $6.
For the Nagels, everything is in play. They want to stay in the four-bedroom brick house they bought in Robinson four years ago, but they're willing to move to the airline's other bases in Philadelphia or Charlotte, N.C., if it means both will keep their jobs.
They've considered refinancing their home and going back to school to take up new careers as hospital radiology technicians.
The medical field, that's the future, Deborah Nagel said.
Craig Nagel even toyed with quitting his job and selling burial plots for a friend.
We have to put our financial situation first, Deborah said. We need to put our family first. It's consistently on our minds. Every time you turn around, they're cutting something else from you.
The various cuts have meant their salaries dropped by about $5,000 a year each, from $50,000 to $45,000, Craig Nagel said.
On top of everything else, the work concessions -- you have to cross your fingers and hope you don't lose your job, too, he said.
Randy and Marcy Schott know the threat is there, but they've decided not to worry until they find themselves without work.
If US Air goes under, I'd have to look for a new career, said Randy Schott, an airline mechanic who has been with the company for 15 years. But where are you going to go? ... As far as the aviation industry, those jobs are not there anymore.
Unlike Marcy, a ticketing agent who says she can transfer her skills to another job, Randy has it harder because his position is so specialized. But moving is not an option they will consider. Their 11- and 8-year-old daughters are firmly ensconced in the Chartiers Valley schools. And their families live nearby.
So, like other US Airways families, they find themselves digging a little more into savings, cutting back on takeout and restaurant dinners and putting off unnecessary home repairs, like renovating the upstairs bathroom in the Bridgeville house where they've lived for 15 years.
The Schotts, like many of the couples married to US Airways, say they know they are among the lucky ones. At least both spouses still have their jobs. For now.

Marisol Bello can be reached at [email protected] or (412) 320-7994.
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