Sun, 23 Sep 2001 Feature Article

World Trade Center's other victims -- the jobless

By Press
World Trade Center's other victims -- the jobless

NEW YORK, Sept 23 (Steve James for Reuters) - It was not only high finance that was shattered in the World Trade Center attacks. Many low-paid workers also lost their jobs in the economic ripples from the assault on a symbol of American capitalism.

Thousands of workers -- many of them immigrants with jobs as waitresses, busboys or toilet cleaners -- are now unemployed as a result of the hijacked planes smashing into the World Trade Center and destroying it on Sept. 11.

They are the economic victims of the worst attack on U.S. soil that left more than 6,000 dead or buried in the rubble of the twin towers.

An estimated 100,000 people in the airline industry nationwide are expected to be laid off. In New York alone, some 4,000 hotel workers are out of a job, as are 2,000 office building workers who cleaned and maintained the World Trade Center and several other lower Manhattan buildings closed after the attacks.

``What can I do now except go and collect unemployment,'' said Jose Bisono, who had worked for 29 years as a ``house man'' and waiter at Manhattan's Downtown Athletic Club.

``Everybody loses something,'' he said last week as the owners of the prestigious sports club, which is home to college football's Heisman Trophy, said it would close indefinitely as a result of damage from the attack on the nearby twin towers.

Rosa Siri, a single mother of two from the Dominican Republic, lost two jobs. She worked as a part-time waitress at the Marriott World Trade Center hotel, which was destroyed, and in the banquet hall of the Regent Wall Street hotel, which remains closed to guests while it houses rescue workers.

``All we can do is look for other jobs,'' she said as she and her friend Marta Restrepo, a Colombian, filled out unemployment applications at the Local 6 offices of HERE, the hotel restaurant and club employees union.


An Ecuadorean woman, who declined to give her name, said she had relied on her Regent Wall Street job because it provided health benefits.

The New York Hotel Trades Council, which represents hotel maids, clerks and doormen, and the Service Employees International Union, whose members are office cleaners, electricians or elevator operators, have set up crisis centers for members to apply for unemployment and other benefits and both have guaranteed members six months of medical assistance.

Waiting in line for advice on the maze of bureaucratic tape that confronts the newly unemployed, was Daniel Mensah, from Ghana, who worked at the Millennium Hilton Hotel across the street from the trade center complex for about 18 months. He lost his job as an overnight ``house man'' or cleaner, when the hotel was evacuated Sept. 11 and there is no word of when, or even if, it will reopen.

``It was a good place to work, but everything has collapsed now in New York,'' he said. ``How am I going to live? Should I move? I won't go back to Ghana; the country is totally corrupt.''

In the United States for six years, Mensah, 35, had just moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn, after sharing a room with a countryman for several years.

He earned about $600 gross a week at the Millennium and now faces the prospect of living on half that in unemployment benefits. "But I'm not just working to support myself, I send money back home to my parents and my two daughters.

``I love New York and its social life, and this is where the future is for my children.''

He was not optimistic about his chances of getting a job in another New York hotel, since many have been laying off staff as cancellations pour in from tourists and business people too frightened to fly here.


Another Ghanaian, Frank Koko, was changing his 16-month-old son Emmanuel's diapers at the union office. He too worked at the Millennium, cleaning bathrooms and public areas.

``I fear I will lose my job forever,'' he said. ``All the hotels are affected now.''

Although his wife works part-time, Koko said his budget had become tighter now that he was out of work and he was concerned about staying in the city. ``Is New York coming back like it was before? Will it be rebuilt?'' he asked.

But, like Mensah, he said it was unlikely he'd return to Ghana. ``I might try Europe,'' he said. ``They have work there.''

Another hotel forced to close was the Embassy Suites. ``I really want to go back to my job there,'' said a 46-year-old Hong Kong native who worked as a cleaner.

``It all happened so quickly, I have no idea what I am going to do,'' said the man, who gave his name only as Lam. "In the New York hotels now, they're only checking out, not checking in.

``But I won't go back to Hong Kong, I love America. If I get married and have children, this is where I want them to be educated.''

Lam, who said he had been a construction worker in Hong Kong and worked in a carpet factory in Brooklyn before going to the Embassy Suites, said New York was the place to stay.

``I have friends in San Francisco, but they say there are no jobs there. I want to stay in New York,'' he said.

About 500 miles (800 km) south of New York, in Raleigh, N.C., Romanian immigrant Liviu Pescaru was in the same boat.

Trained as a pilot in the Romanian Air Force, he came to America in 1994 and logged enough hours in flying school to finally land a job last year at Midway Airlines.


Pescaru weathered the pilot furlough in August after the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

But the day after the attacks in New York and at the U.S. Pentagon, Midway said it would cease operations.

``With so many pilots in the street, it will be extremely hard to find a job,'' he said. ``All the openings will be filled very quickly.''

One workforce sector that's no stranger to unemployment is the acting profession. A couple of hundred actors and an unknown number of stagehands will be out on the street after the Sunday closing of four Broadway shows -- ``Stones in his Pockets,'' ``The Rocky Horror Show,'' ``A Thousand Clowns'' and ``If You Ever Leave Me, I'm Going With You.''

One New York actor, Joe MacDonald, has worked in a pharmacy, as an apartment cleaner, as a church singer and a voice coach, between gigs. ``I worked in a couple of movies, but that ended two weeks ago,'' he told Reuters.

``But now I feel really weird looking for work when everyone else is out there looking for jobs,'' MacDonald said.

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