TSA workers up in the air amid govenment shutdown

LAKE CLEAR — With a partial federal government shutdown stretching to 19 days, Transportation Security Administration employees at North Country airports continue to work unpaid to keep flights going.

The shutdown started on Dec. 22 when congressional Democrats opposed President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a wall on the Mexican border. Trump refused to sign a government funding measure that passed the Senate unanimously, instead requesting billions to build a wall to address what he calls the “National Security crisis on our Southern Border.”

Bart Johnson, the federal security director for New York TSA outside of New York City, said TSA employees have been deemed “essential” to the government and are required to work without pay. Congress can pass an act for retroactive pay for TSA employees, but Johnson said it is not guaranteed and it is not clear how long such an act would take.

TSA workers are already some of the lowest paid government employees, according to the American Federation of Government Employees, and have less rights than others.

AFGE states that the average officer’s salary is around $37,000 a year. Money magazine quoted TSA officers saying they live paycheck to paycheck.

Johnson said employees will not get their biweekly paychecks during the shutdown, but the agents at airports — himself included — are all working for free.

AFGE’s TSA Council president, Hydrick Thomas, said federal employees around the nation have been quitting over the past two weeks because of the shutdown.

Committed workers

However, there have not been incidents that extreme at local airports, according to the managers of Plattsburgh International Airport and Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear.

“We’re not really experiencing any difficulties,” Plattsburgh International Airport’s media director Kristy Kennedy said.

Johnson said there are around 60 TSA employees at North Country airports. He said they keep working because they understand the importance of their work.

“They’ve got a job to do, and that job is to keep the flying public safe,” Johnson said.

“We have not noticed any indications of anything unusual,” Adirondack Regional Airport Manager Corey Hurwitch said. “They’re upbeat; they’re professional. Everything is status quo.”

Hurwitch said the Lake Clear airport has a team environment, and agents know that if one leaves, it impacts the others.

The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh reports that the U.S.-Canada border is being staffed and monitored with no change due to the shutdown but that Homeland Security employees are also working without pay.

No end in sight

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik voted for a short-term spending bill in December that included over $5 billion in funding for a border wall, but she broke with her Republican Party this week to vote for a Democratic bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security — with no funding for the wall — until Feb. 8.

The bill passed Congress after a 241-190 vote, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said House bills will not be voted on by the Senate unless Trump agrees to sign them.

Democrats have offered bills that provide $1.3 billion for border security, without a wall, but Trump has rejected them.

Currently, 420,000 federal employees have been deemed “essential” and continue to work unpaid while 380,000 are on furlough, unpaid leave.