FORT WORTH — American Airlines employees are still adjusting to what they call a "kick in the gut."
Bankruptcy has put all labor contract talks on hold, and workers are fearing layoffs, pay cuts and reduced benefits.
More than 3,000 Transport Workers Union members in North Texas are now wondering about retirement, mortgages, and feeding their families.
They do the heavy lifting for American Airlines. They're not the pilots and flight attendants who passengers see and remember. They handle the bags and load the planes for takeoff.
In 2003, as the carrier struggled in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Transport Workers helped keep American flying by giving back more than 30 percent of their pay and benefits.
"Eleven-hundred dollars a month take home pay. That's tough," said Jack Bell, a fleet services employee with more than 20 years on the job. "And now here we are 6, 7, 8 years later. Now, am I going to have to do that again?"
Bell gave back so much pay to keep his job that he had to file bankruptcy himself to protect his home and his family.
On Wednesday, Bell was at the D/FW Hyatt Regency as Transport Workers Union Local 513 told members their pensions and retirement plans are now in danger.
"I don't have to go on a worldwide tour. I just want to go home and have a house," Bell told News 8. "I want to be able to go to the grocery store and have more than $25 or $30 to buy food for two weeks."
Debbie Spencer has put in almost 25 years with American. As a ramp crew chief, she wants to see the airline come back stronger after Chapter 11 and deliver on the profit-sharing it promised eight years ago, when she sacrificed everything.
"It meant the loss of my marriage, the loss of my house, the loss of my car. The loss of my dignity when I had to file bankruptcy," she said.
Spencer's husband at the time also took a pay cut in 2003. Now she has four children and one grandchild who depend on her income — which could be slashed again.
The union says there are 11,000 Transport Workers Union members on the ground for American Airlines' sites around the globe; 3,500 are based in North Texas. Union members average 49 years old and 19 years with the company.
Passengers may not remember their faces, but Transport Workers hope management will remember what they've done to keep the airline flying.
Spencer and Bell believe that with 25 years of service, they can't afford to give up on American Airlines, because they have nowhere else to go.