Transportation Security Administration employees, who are staffing airports at one of the busiest travel times of the year, are dealing with low morale, frustration at Washington and uncertainty over how they’ll pay rent or feed their families if the government shutdown drags on.
The shutdown is making the already stressful task of securing airports over the holidays even more difficult and demoralizing, TSA officers told HuffPost, all on the condition of anonymity, fearing repercussions at their jobs.
Although Trump has said that federal workers want him to hold out in shutdown negotiations until he gets his way, the TSA employees who talked with HuffPost had a very different message.
“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 Transportation Security Officer told HuffPost in an email. The officer, a single mother, now worries how she’ll take care of her kids if the shutdown drags on.
“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 said.
A prolonged shutdown could mean missed rent or mortgage payments, no gas money to get to airports and pressure to look for a new job or take on extra work, TSA employees said. The fact this is the third shutdown in under a year adds to the frustration. Several workers criticized the government for playing politics with people’s lives.
“To say morale is low is an understatement. People on both sides of the political argument are infuriated at this,” another TSA officer said. “We feel completely and utterly unappreciated.”
For some employees, the treatment of the TSA reinforced the feeling that the agency is the “bastard stepchild” of the federal government. TSA employees, for instance, are not part of the same General Schedule salary system as other federal workers that gives clearly defined grades of pay and steps for advancement ― annual pay for TSA officers starts at around $25,000 to $30,000 a year.
Several employees brought up the possibility that a long shutdown would lead to departures, either out of necessity or from growing discontent at the job.
“The turnover rate of employees is very high in this agency and for good reason, as it is easy to lose our sense of purpose when we are being shit on from all sides,” one officer said.
Other employees worried that they’d face backlash from management if they called out of work during the shutdown, even if it was because they couldn’t afford the transportation costs of getting to and from the airport.
“I know that may sound unreasonable but with our management it’s very predictable,” a TSA officer said about facing disciplinary action if workers took time off.
Federal employees are expected to receive back pay once the government reopens, but with no fixed date and bills to pay in the meantime it is little comfort for workers who are currently on the job without compensation.
The shutdown, which is now in its 10th day, is almost certain to stretch into the new year. The White House and top Democrats are at an impasse over Trump’s demand for money to build his border wall with Mexico ― one of his best known campaign promises, which he claimed Mexico would pay for. Neither side appears ready to compromise, and the Democrats are set to take control of the House when Congress reconvenes this week.
The effects of the shutdown will become increasingly apparent if no deal is reached. Major tourist attractions and cultural institutions such as the Smithsonian and National Zoo will stop running this week, while many national parks are closed. But if empty museums and service stations are the most visible signs of the shutdown, workers say they’re the ones who are facing the worst of the crisis.
“There’s very little attention on the people affected,” said one TSA employee. “Yeah, offices are closed, parks are closed, but there’s a bunch of us, a bunch of people.”