Transportation Security Administration employees would normally receive their first paycheck of the year on Friday, but the government shutdown means that won’t happen. Instead, workers are bracing for the next phase of the shutdown as they worry how to pay for gas, rent and food with no income in sight.
Now, the effects of the shutdown will get a whole lot worse, the TSA employee union and several officers told HuffPost.
“Morale is, I believe, close to rock bottom, and I think things will start getting really bad if this isn’t fixed by this weekend,” one TSA officer told HuffPost, requesting anonymity out of concern over repercussions at work.
TSA employees received their last paycheck on Dec. 28, giving them money that would typically last through the next pay period ― but which will now have to stretch much further. Many TSA workers live paycheck to paycheck, with the starting salary for officers between $25,000 to $30,000 a year. The shutdown has already forced some employees to look for new jobs or take on extra work, TSA staff say, and the pressure is immense for employees and families with no other source of income.
“I don’t know how people are going to get to work next week, when we don’t get a check,” said Joe Shuker, a regional vice president for the TSA employee union. Shuker says many workers will have to choose between the cost of getting to their job at the airport and covering everyday living expenses.
The shutdown is taking an increasing toll on federal workers, adding stress to already difficult work environments such as airport security. As the situation deteriorates at these jobs, some experts warn that it may also increase the risk of corruption at borders, prisons and airports. Meanwhile, the TSA employee union claims that a loss of staff over the shutdown could create a “massive security risk” for travelers if the agency is left short-handed.
Although TSA officers will very likely receive back pay when the government eventually reopens, that does little to help with their immediate expenses and concerns. Because TSA workers are classified as providing essential services, they must continue to work through the shutdown with no pay coming in and can face disciplinary action for unexplained absences.
Already the shutdown has resulted in hundreds of employees calling out of work sick, according to union officials. The TSA has rejected reports of widespread callouts, however, with a representative telling HuffPost that rates are only slightly higher than at this time last year ― but multiple employees say that they do know of some officers who are calling out due to the shutdown.
“No one wants to go to work and not get paid, especially for a job like TSA,” another TSA officer told HuffPost, also on the condition of anonymity.
The shutdown is now in its 20th day, and there is no sign of a breakthrough in negotiations over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall with Mexico. On Wednesday, Trump abruptly walked out of a meeting with top Democratic leaders ― which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) described as “a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way.”
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are either furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown, often resulting in them scrambling to make rent or even pay for medicine. Federal workers have already held or planned protests in major cities, including one in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, and Shuker expects more to come if the shutdown isn’t resolved soon.
“I can’t imagine it being a good situation next week, because people are out of money already,” Shuker said.
“We’ve got a lot of dedicated people, man, but sooner or later they’re gonna break.”