The slowly growing wave of sickouts among TSA workers reached 10 percent as the agency that provides security at the nation’s airports acknowledged “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”
The Transportation Security Administration said Monday that the rate of unscheduled absences Sunday compared with a 3.1 percent rate on the same day one year ago.
The nation’s 800,000 federal employees will miss their second paycheck this week as the government shutdown extends into its second month. About half of those employees, including about 50,000 airport security workers, are considered “essential” and are working anyway.
“While national average wait times are within normal TSA times of 30 minutes for standard lanes and 10 minutes for TSA Precheck, some airports experienced longer than usual wait times,” TSA said in a statement.
Without paychecks, however, some federal employees have resorted to picking up temporary jobs to make ends meet.
TSA said it is “optimizing resources” to ensure screening lanes are properly staffed but warned that airports may exercise contingency plans because of call-outs and traveler volume.
TSA screened 1.78 million passengers Sunday, and “99.9 percent” of passengers waited fewer than 30 minutes, the agency said. And 93.1 percent waited fewer than 15 minutes. On Saturday, the sickout rate was 8 percent.
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport said it closed a checkpoint Sunday to “efficiently use staffing.” But the airport later tweeted that such closures were common before the shutdown and have “minimal, if any, impact on passengers.”
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TSA previously said it has been tapping members of its National Deployment Force, usually called in to help with staffing shortages when major events or national disasters descend on a city. The added staff is being used to bulk up security at a handful of larger airports including New York’s LaGuardia and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the agency said.
“Came early to @LGAairport assuming long waits and lines,” traveler Shelly Maddox tweeted Monday from LaGuardia. “We have never had a better experience. Absolutely no wait and the @TSA workers had a smile on their face. Professionals.”
The Atlanta airport along with Seattle’s Sea-Tac International Airport were among those where security wait times reached 60 minutes at some checkpoints last week. A Sea-Tac airport spokesman attributed the issue to a high volume of passengers heading out for the holiday weekend.
The shutdown began three days before Christmas when President Donald Trump and the Democratic Congress reached a stalemate over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund construction of a wall along the Mexican border.
Historically, federal employees who drew no pay during government shutdowns have ultimately been paid whether they worked or not. This shutdown, however, has been the longest shutdown in U.S. history.
The TSA workers’ plight has drawn support. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of the band KISS announced they will provide free food at their Rock & Brews Restaurants nationwide. And at Miami International Airport, Chef Créole is giving TSA workers free lunch and dinner every day they are working without pay.
On Sunday, Trump tweeted his thanks to federal employees who are working without pay.
“To all of the great people who are working so hard for your Country and not getting paid I say, THANK YOU – YOU ARE GREAT PATRIOTS!” he tweeted. “We must now work together, after decades of abuse, to finally fix the Humanitarian, Criminal & Drug Crisis at our Border. WE WILL WIN BIG!”