Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration screeners working for free during the government shutdown are calling in sick so they can earn money at jobs that pay, union officials told CNN.
Union representatives reported significant numbers of absences at major airports in New York, Texas and North Carolina.
As many as 170 agents called in sick each day this week at Kennedy International Airport in New York, Hydrick Thomas, president of the TSA union under the American Federation of Government Employees, told CNN.
Other union officials said absences are up at much as 300 percent at Dallas Fort-Worth International Airport and 10 percent at Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte airports. Numbers will “get worse as this drags on,” said union official Mac Johnson.
Sick time “call-outs have increased,” TSA spokesman Jim Gregory told The Washington Post. But so far they’re having “minimal impact,” he said. “To date the [screening] wait times remain within TSA standards,” which is a maximum of 30 minutes in a regular checkpoint queue.
That could change quickly if more workers call in sick. Post-holiday traffic at airports now is low, which could be mitigating a shortage of workers.
One TSA official told CNN that the absences were part of a “blue flu” action by upset employees. But union representatives said workers have to seek other jobs so they can pay rent, mortgages and child care costs.
“While Congress and Mr. Trump get to stay home, enjoy their personal time with their families, and still get paid, we have to struggle and suffer,” a TSA officer who’s a single mom told HuffPost in an email early this week.
“Most of us live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to be unpaid and still go to work for long. It is not fair,” she added.
The shutdown not only impacts hundreds of thousands of workers, but the TSA situation could eventually snarl airport screenings and impact passenger safety as remaining agents are forced to take on more work.
Many TSA officers are continuing to show up for work — but must also do other jobs to pay bills. That also takes a toll.
Some 51,000 TSA employees who screen passengers are considered essential, so they’re among the 420,000 federal employees who are expected to work without the promise of a paycheck at the regular pay time next Friday, noted the Post.
President Donald Trump, who is refusing to sign a federal spending bill unless it includes more than $5 billion for his border wall, said Friday that the shutdown could go on for “months or even years.”
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