Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners at airports have called in sick this week at four major airports, CNN reports. TSA officers are considered essential government personnel, and have been required to report to work, even though they are not being paid during a shutdown of about a quarter of the federal government.
This could open a security gap by reducing scrutiny of passengers, or slow down processing and snarl airports.
However, a spokesperson for the TSA told Fortune that while the number of employees calling in sick increased over the holiday period, it resulted in minimal impact for screening, and “security effectiveness will not be compromised.” The spokesperson said 99.8% of 2.2 million passengers screened on Jan. 3 waited less than 30 minutes.
Workers aren’t skipping work as a protest, a TSA union official told CNN, but rather because they can’t afford to continue without a paycheck. The official said some union members cannot pay for child care, while others are taking temporary jobs to earn the cash needed to pay bills.
Following previous shutdowns, government employees both required to stay on the job and those furloughed and ordered to not work have received back pay. That isn’t guaranteed, however. Government contractors and their employees, including those providing custodial and maintenance services often at quite low wages, typically lose out entirely on fees and pay.
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) didn’t respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.
The number of TSA workers calling in sick is two to three times the routine number at Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, according to CNN. The AFGE’s president told the network that “This will definitely affect the flying public who we [are] sworn to protect.” Other airports have reportedly seen lower rates that are still above those typical for this time of year. About 55,000 TSA workers remain on the job.
The government shutdown affects only some agencies and departments, including Homeland Security, for whom budget appropriations bills weren’t enacted in 2018. About 800,000 workers currently receive no pay, and roughly 420,000 are required to report for work without pay with the same repercussions for absenteeism as if they were being paid.
Previous shutdowns that affected all federal employees and operations lasted relatively short periods of time, often ending before the next date on which paychecks issued. However, President Donald Trump today confirmed today that he told Democratic leaders of the House and Senate that he would keep the shutdown going for months or years to obtain the first stage of funding for a massive new border wall with Mexico that he’s insisted upon.