Saturday morning and Judy Murphy is wearing a freshly ironed shirt.
She was Friday morning, too. When you're unemployed, you can get around to doing those nagging little tasks, like ironing, that get put off when you're working a full-time job."I am getting bored," Murphy said. "I have ironed every shirt. You should see my husband's closet. How many times can you wash the kitchen floor?"
A week ago Monday, Murphy was at work, answering phones, assuring callers that their Eastern Airlines tickets would be honored, despite the company's well-publicized strike rumors. About 2:30 p.m. that day, after putting in a weekend of mandatory overtime, the veteran reservation agent learned she had been spreading the company line all morning. That was when she and the other 649 people employed at Eastern's Salt Lake Reservation Center were first told they would be on immediate "no-work" status - indefinitely.
"I booked at least three people that morning," she recalled. "I told them they would be protected on other airlines if we were not flying on the day of their ticket."
Bob Burquist, Eastern regional director, is one of just three employees left at the Salt Lake Reservation Center. He's hoping to receive further information from company officials early next week. "Our only instruction right now is everything is being tied up in bankruptcy court."
He said he understands there might be some hard feelings. "The message wasn't especially nice. I think you have to understand the message and the feeling. Nobody likes to hear: `You don't have a job.' I don't care who you are."
The troubled company, brought to its knees by a machinists strike honored by the pilots' union, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization March 9. Salt Lake employees received paychecks before they were sent home. This week, they found out the bankruptcy action froze the airline's assets, including the payroll, causing checks to bounce all over town.
Despite being unemployed, Murphy still spends a lot of time on the phones. An informal network has formed among the reservation clerks with time on their hands, who wonder about whether they are going to get the rest of the money the company owes them, and when they are going to be called back to work.
Murphy hasn't gotten any response to questions she and other former employees have about the overtime or vacation pay they're due.
The company's non-union employees, like the Salt Lake reservation agents, feel unprotected in fighting for their pay in bankruptcy court and uncertain about their futures. They can't find jobs in town for the same salary Eastern paid. They're worried employers won't hire them because of their loyalties if Eastern reopens the reservation center.
Murphy is one who says she doesn't know what to believe. She has supported the company in the past but is unsure who is telling the truth about the concessions the unions were asked to make in the last hours before the strike deadline.
After the layoff, state employment officials held special sessions to handle the local flood of the newly unemployed. A majority of Eastern's Salt Lake employees, all non-union workers, have filed for unemployment benefits.
"We figure about 550, or most of them, did. We still have some trickling in," said Rita Oram, manager of claims for the Salt Lake office of the Utah Department of Employment Security.
Murphy first made a commitment to her company 91/2 years ago, when she packed up her four children and moved to Salt Lake City from New Jersey for a full-time Eastern job. "My whole life changed drastically," she said. But she liked Utah. "I thought this was a nice place to raise children. Unfortunately, my children didn't seem to agree." They all moved back east.
She showed her company colors again in 1986 when all Eastern employees - except the machinists union - agreed to a 20 percent pay cut to save Eastern. The machinists union, the same union that is now striking, actually got an 8 percent raise then.
Now, Murphy sits home and worries. "You can't enjoy yourself when you're afraid of the mortgage."
Murphy was looking toward early retirement, which she would be eligible for in December.
Despite the uncertainty, Murphy said she would go back if Eastern calls. "I'm very proud of the job I did."