United Airlines Workers Cope with Pension Changes About 120,000 workers stand to lose some of their benefits as a result of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's takeover of United Airline's pension plan. Willie Ashford is among those workers. He's the lead ramp serviceman for United Airlines at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. He talked with NPR's Liane Hansen about the upcoming changes in his life.
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United Airlines Workers Cope with Pension Changes

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United Airlines Workers Cope with Pension Changes

United Airlines Workers Cope with Pension Changes

United Airlines Workers Cope with Pension Changes

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About 120,000 workers stand to lose some of their benefits as a result of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's takeover of United Airline's pension plan. Willie Ashford is among those workers. He's the lead ramp serviceman for United Airlines at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. He talked with NPR's Liane Hansen about the upcoming changes in his life.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

If you've flown in or out of Chicago's O'Hare Airport in the last 16 years, there's a chance Willie Ashford(ph) handled your luggage. He's the lead ramp serviceman for United Airlines and he's among the more than 120,000 workers and retirees who stand to be affected by Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation's takeover of United's pension plan. United estimates that this change will reduce the pension benefits for ramp workers like Mr. Ashford by about half. Pay cuts over the last three years have already reduced his salary from $25 an hour to about 19. Mr. Ashford is 50 years old and he and his wife have two teen-age children. He joins us from member station WBEZ in Chicago.

Mr. Ashford, thanks for being with us.

Mr. WILLIE ASHFORD (Lead Ramp Serviceman, United Airlines): Thank you very much. Yeah. Thank you for having me here.

HANSEN: Now what was your reaction when you heard that United was ending its pension plan?

Mr. ASHFORD: When I first heard it, I was at first confused; didn't quite understand, you know, what it all meant until, you know, I did a little research. It's kind of depressing now.

HANSEN: Yeah. What did you find? I mean, what have you heard about how this is going to affect your finances?

Mr. ASHFORD: Well, I found that all of my pension that's accumulated over time until I'm ready to retire has stopped. That means that all of the accumulation of my pension--you know, it appears that I'm going to have to work a little bit longer now.

HANSEN: Yeah. How much have you planned for your retirement?

Mr. ASHFORD: In terms of dollars, you know, I've got the 401(k) and some other investments that I have, but I was also depending on that pension. That's...

HANSEN: Do you have any other sources of income?

Mr. ASHFORD: You know, I do, you know, a little painting, a little T-shirt business that I do on the side.

HANSEN: So you have all these little things...

Mr. ASHFORD: Little things.

HANSEN: ...and your salary and that's essentially it. Does your wife work?

Mr. ASHFORD: Yeah, she does, but still, you know, we're struggling--well, just making it right now, but, you know, if something happens to her, if something happens to me, it's a strain on one of us, you see?

HANSEN: You have kids. I mean, your kids are teen-agers. They're looking at college pretty soon.

Mr. ASHFORD: Yeah, I've got one kid that in about two years he's maybe going to college. You know, at this point, I'm not sure. We have to figure some things out and make some adjustments, see if we're still going in that direction. So it might be a junior college. I don't know about a four-year college at this point.

HANSEN: So your salary's being cut. Your pension...

Mr. ASHFORD: ...being cut.

HANSEN: What's the mood like at work?

Mr. ASHFORD: They're depressed. You know, they're concerned. You know, how would you feel, you know, if you loved your job and you worked hard to get what you've got and then all of a sudden it's taken away from you little by little? It's depressing. Those guys, including myself--we love the job. We do the job. We try to do our best. You know, the customer right now is our priority. So we continue on until the union can work out something with the company.

HANSEN: Willie Ashford is the lead ramp serviceman for United Airlines in Chicago. He joined us from the studios of WBEZ.

Thanks a lot.

Mr. ASHFORD: Thank you.

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