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Originally published Saturday, May 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Attendants expose United pension loss

While some United Airlines employees are using placards and pamphlets to protest the loss of their pensions, a group of flight attendants...

The Associated Press

CHICAGO — While some United Airlines employees are using placards and pamphlets to protest the loss of their pensions, a group of flight attendants is taking a more risqué tack — showing some skin to publicize their plight.

The five women, ranging in age from 55 to 64, posed for a 2006 calendar that depicts them in various states of undress in front of a vintage plane, on a park bench and on a plane's wing, among other locations. Reflecting a mix of humor and anger, it was released to coincide with a bankruptcy court's approval this week of United's plan to terminate $9.8 billion in employee-pension obligations.

While United is never named nor its airplanes shown, every photograph in "Stewardesses Stripped (Of Their Pension?)" is accompanied by a zinger related to the record pension default by the airline.

"Coffee, tea, or me without a pension?" reads one. "Marry me, fly free — but don't expect anything from my pension," says another. And the cover shot: "Are your butts covered? We thought ours were too."

Retired flight attendant Connie Baker, the project's creator and one of its photo subjects, says it was inspired by the 2003 film "Calendar Girls" — the true story of a group of older British women who posed naked for a calendar to raise charity money.

"I thought if these English women can do this, we flight attendants can definitely do it," Baker said.

The driving force, though, was United's announcement last summer that it intended to stop funding its pensions and dump them on the government's pension agency, which by law can guarantee just $6.6 billion of the total.

Baker, 59, who started working for United in 1967, now is bracing for her $2,800-a-month pension to be cut roughly in half.

But Baker wants it known that this isn't all about being bitter. "We wanted to create a little humor in people's lives, make it fun, while at the same time getting our message across," said Baker, who lives near Phoenix.

"I wanted to raise awareness for people out there that it can happen to you, and you have to take care of yourself. You have to take an active role in your retirement. Don't depend on a company to do it for you, even if you've worked there your whole career."

Her husband, Bruce, took the photos. The other retirees photographed are Linda Andrews, 59, and Rosemary Esparza, 64. Baker did not want to name the other two since they are active flight attendants for United.


United, union near agreement

CHICAGO — United Airlines and unions representing its mechanics and baggage handlers edged closer to long-term contract agreements yesterday as a bankruptcy-court trial on the carrier's bid to terminate existing pacts moved closer to conclusion.

The airline and unions are working against a rough deadline of sometime next week, before Judge Eugene Wedoff issues a ruling that could trigger a threatened strike by United's workers if it authorizes the breaking of tentative contracts.

Both unions said key progress was made but neither expected final agreement until early in the week.

Members of both unions would have to ratify any deals. The mechanics rejected a tentative agreement in January, with 57 percent voting against it.

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