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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

Maria Mena

September 11, 2002

Maria Mena, 53, is a housekeeper at the upscale Four Points by Sheraton Santa Monica hotel, which caters to airline pilots and flight attendants on layover. She has worked at the hotel for 18 years and was a supervisor at the time of the terrorist attacks. The following month, as tourism slumped and hotels laid off thousands of workers, Mena lost her job. Six months later, she was rehired--but on an on-call basis. She now has less job security, lower wages and no health benefits.

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"That morning, I was getting ready for work and I had the television on as usual. We saw the building in New York after the plane hit it. We thought something must have happened to the pilot. Fifteen minutes later, we saw the second one hit and knew it was something horrible.

I went to work and it was a very sad day. So many people from the airlines. A pilot was there in the lobby, crying, trembling. He said his brother was the pilot of one of the planes that crashed. I was supervising the girls all day and it was very hard for them. Everyone was in their rooms, watching television. They didn't want service. We just tried to do what we could to help them. It was like that all week.

It never, ever crossed my mind that it would affect me personally. But then the business started dropping. In October, they told me to take two weeks' vacation. Then they called me in and told me there were no hours for me. It hit me really hard. I spent the whole night crying. I didn't sleep at all. I felt abandoned. This was the only job I had practically since I came to this country.

My husband took me to church every day and I prayed for my job. I felt like I was drowning. Before, I made $700 every two weeks, sometimes $800 with overtime. Now I might get $570. It's not enough. Thanks to God, we have some help. The community is helping me pay bills. The union is giving us bags of food. What I'm really worried about is the medical benefits. Before, I had insurance for the whole family. Now I have to go to a clinic. I hope if we get the union, I can get full-time work and benefits again. Without that, how can anyone survive?

It seems unjust, because I see them still hiring part-time workers but I am still on call. It hurts, everything they've done. And I'm not the only one. What happened to me has happened to a lot of people."

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As told to Nancy Cleeland

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