Sun, May 15, 2005 - Page 11 News List

`Calendar girls' do it again, this time over pensions

BARE FACTS Five women, employees of United Airlines aged 55 to 64, appear in a 2006 calendar in various stages of undress to protest a decrease in pension benefits


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 risque 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 US$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 Elk Grove Village, Illinois-based 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 about the real-life 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," said Baker, 59, who lives outside Phoenix.

The real 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 US$6.6 billion of the total.

Baker, who started working for United in 1967 when flight attendants were called stewardesses, now is bracing for her US$2,800-a-month pension to be cut in half.

"You can't really live on that," she said. "How am I going to live on 50 percent of it?"

But Baker wants it known that this isn't all about being bitter. She hopes some good can come from it, and not just the percentage of calendar and T-shirt sales that the women will donate to charity.

"We wanted to create a little humor in people's lives, make it fun, while at the same time getting our message across," she said.

Her husband, Bruce Baker, 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.

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