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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 3, 2008

'I had faith in the system,' says 38-year Aloha worker

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Harry Shupe talked about his 38 years at Aloha Airlines yesterday at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers union hall in Kapalama.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Harry Shupe showed up at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union hall in Kapalama yesterday wearing a T-shirt that read, "Old Guys Rule."

At the age of 58 and suddenly without the job he held at Aloha Airlines for 38 years the T-shirt reflected Shupe's mood.

"It matches my age," he said, "and it's how I feel."

Shupe grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he learned that you worked hard for a company and did as you were told. In return, the company took care of you and your pension.

Shupe doesn't feel that way anymore. Not after Aloha Airlines shuttered its passenger service operation on Sunday four years away from Shupe's retirement.

"I had faith in the system," he said. "Now what?"

Shupe spent 36 of his 38 years at Aloha working the front counter and the boarding gate and all the places in between helping passengers.

Now he needs to start over. And Shupe worries it'll probably be in some entry level job in an industry he doesn't know.

"What can I do at my age?" he asked. "What kind of a job will anybody give me?"

It wasn't always this way for Shupe.

During his senior year in high school, Shupe's father announced the family was moving to Hawai'i so the dad could work at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

Shupe enrolled at Leeward Community College but got drafted into the Army and served a tour in Vietnam between 1970 and 1971.

He left the Army as a sergeant, got married and had a newborn son.

For a guy without a college education, Aloha Airlines was one of the best places to work.

"In the 1970s, the airline business was the place to be," Shupe said. "Now it's the opposite."

After Aloha Airlines' first bankruptcy in 2004 and 2005, Shupe lost one third of the value of his pension.

He had hoped to retire at age 60. Now it's more like 62.

He pays the mortgage on a three-bedroom home in Waipahu that he shares with his wife, son, son's wife and their two infant children.

The son and daughter-in-law have been living rent-free but that's going to have to change, Shupe said.

He can switch over to his wife's healthcare plan. But his wife, Charlene, also works in the airline industry as a customer service representative for American Airlines.

So he's going to hit the job fair circuit.

"I have no idea what's going to happen," Shupe said. "I don't think this has sunk in yet. It's unfathomable."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.