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Aftershock: Mechanic escapes 'certain' layoff, but reprieve only prolongs uncertainty

Pink slip only a matter of time

Sunday, September 30, 2001

By Ann Belser, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Kate Brennan could tell from the look on her husband's face that he still didn't know.

It was Wednesday morning and Dan Brennan, a US Airways mechanic, had just stepped into the kitchen of his Swissvale home, with Kate and baby Gracie there to greet him.

He had been expecting to be laid off during his night shift. He was so sure that he did not pack a lunch. Nor had he slept before going to work. Instead, he installed the automatic garage door openers he bought before the Sept. 11 attacks.

After arriving home from his job as a US Airways mechanic, Dan Brennan takes care of his 10-month-old daugher Gracie at his Swissvale home. Brennan and his wife Kate are still wondering about their future after US Airways announced it would lay off 11,000 people. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

But by the time he finished his shift at 7 a.m., he was hungry and tired but still employed. For now.

He held his arms out and said, "We don't know anything." Then he took Gracie from his wife.

When US Airways announced there would be 11,000 layoffs, Dan was sure he was going to be one of them.

He is 27 and has only one year's service -- Sept. 11 was, in fact, his anniversary date. He works in a hangar with many people who have more seniority.

The day before the attacks, Dan started two weeks of training on the mechanics of the Fokker 100. Kate, 27, was happy because the training was during the day, so Dan could be home in the evenings with her and 10-month-old Gracie. But by the end of that week, the airline had decided to retire its Fokker 100 fleet.

"I was in school, fat, dumb and happy," Dan said. "I didn't have any idea."

Now, like many airline workers and other Americans, he's caught in an economic downturn intensified by the terrorist strikes. Dan has to worry about whether he will have a job at all.

How Lives Have Changed

One in an occasional series on how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have affected ordinary Americans.

Previous Installments

A volunteer confronts the pain at WTC


The Brennans met when they were students at Schenley High School. After graduation, she went to Duquesne University to study elementary education. He went into the Air Force.

They started dating after he got out of the military. They married in 1998, living in an apartment in Ross. She got a job as a social worker. He went to the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics. Dan got work fixing planes for TWA in Kansas City, while Kate taught first grade.

A year ago, he started working for US Airways in Philadelphia, where Gracie was born. They moved back to Pittsburgh in February, stayed with her mother in Squirrel Hill and bought the house in May. The night before, they celebrated in their empty living room with friends, eating pizza and strawberry pie.

When they bought the house, US Airways was in negotiations to merge with United Airlines.

"Everybody was like, 'Are you crazy buying a house with this merger plan?' " Dan said.

"This was how we wanted to live our lives," Kate said. "We wanted to have a house and have kids."

Then came Sept. 11. Since then, he's been working on the house and waiting for his layoff notice. The rumors have been flying. A co-worker called last weekend and told him Tuesday was going to be the night; a manager had said the workers would know then. That evening, instead of saying he was getting ready to go to work, he told Kate, "I'm getting ready to get my toolbox."

The toolbox stayed at work. But he couldn't go straight to bed and rest up for work, as he usually does. So sure were the Brennans that Dan would be out of work, they figured he'd be able to stay up to watch Gracie while Kate went for a physical so she could start substitute teaching to make up for his lost income.

Now, she offered to take Gracie with her.

"Nah, I'll stay up," Dan said as he fed his daughter breakfast. "I'll sleep after you get back."

Before the terrorist attacks, they were able to buy a refrigerator with overtime pay from his $40,000-a-year job. "If I knew we were going to get laid off, we never would have gotten a new fridge," he said.

Their plans to have more children are on hold.

Early last week, they were looking for hope in the numbers, but the numbers went from bad to worse. A union official had told him to expect 350 layoffs in his local, the International Association of Machinists. But by week's end, 500 skilled mechanics had been given layoff notices.

Brennan didn't get one, but he's so new he could be "bumped" by workers with more seniority from anywhere in the country.

When he came home Thursday morning, he told his wife what he'd been told: It was likely that within 30 days he'll lose his job.

So the uncertainty lingers for Kate. She just wants to know, one way or the other. Then they can take the next steps in their lives and so can the other people affected, like the people for whom she baby-sits. He's already started thinking about what to do next. All they know is that they want to stay in Pittsburgh.

Before the attacks, if US Airways was doing badly and he lost his job, Dan would have tried to get a job at another carrier. Now all the carriers are having trouble. He said he can't be angry at the airline; it's as much a victim of the attacks as anyone else.

"I'm just disappointed because this whole career path is just not working out."

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