With presumably no end in sight for the federal government shutdown, TSA workers at Pittsburgh International Airport are worried about paying their bills but said they are committed to staying on the job.
The shutdown, which began on Dec. 22, requires federal employees that are key to safety and security at airports to keep working, without pay, until the government reopens. At PIT, entities impacted by the shutdown include TSA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and FAA air traffic control specialists.
Although they will receive back pay at the conclusion of the shutdown, TSA staff at PIT expressed concern about the possibility of an extended period without compensation. Blue Sky spoke to the workers on the condition that they would not be named.
“They say to us that as soon as the government comes back up they will pay us as promptly as they can, which is good — but that’s when the government opens back up,” said one TSA employee. “So everyone is probably digging pretty deep right now.”
Another officer said that most TSA workers haven’t felt the impact yet but will soon, as this weekend marks their first scheduled pay period without a check.
“In my household we have two incomes, so we will survive, but it’s going to be hard if it keeps going,” one staffer said.
Nationally, hundreds of TSA screeners have called off sick this week, raising concern for security and operations at airports across the U.S. Despite reports of a “blue flu” epidemic at other major airports, local officers are still reporting to work, according to William Reese, the union representative for 130 TSA employees at PIT.
“At this time, I haven’t really seen a super impact,” Reese said. “There are people that are a little upset and concerned and worried about how they are going to make ends meet, but at this time there hasn’t been a true impact.”
In addition to federal employees working without pay, other impacts to airport operations include enrollment programs for TSA Pre-Check. Applications and passenger interviews for expedited security screening will not be accepted at PIT until the government reopens. While TSA employees at PIT continue to work, the issue could impact airport operations on a national level if TSA screeners at other airports continue to call off.
For now, Reese is confident that his employees are committed to the mission of ensuring safety for the traveling public and protecting the airport.
“To my knowledge, all of my people are dedicated and they are going to come until their money runs out — until there are no other means possible for them to get to work,” he said. “It’s individual cases for how long their money can run. People have childcare issues, we have a lot of single parents that work inside of TSA. There’s food costs, rent, mortgages, car payments. Every situation is going to be a little different.”
As for the local agents, pay or no pay, they believe they have an important responsibility to uphold.
“It may affect larger airports, and it does affect us personally on how we pay our bills,” another TSA agent said, “but for work, we are here; that’s what we pledge ourselves to.”