TSA Agents Make It Clear: They Can’t Afford to Work Without Pay Through Shutdown

January 16, 2019, 11:44 PM UTC

The airport security officers whose absence during the partial government shutdown has led to longer screening lines aren’t just calling in sick. Growing numbers are citing financial hardship for not reporting to work.

The Transportation Security Administration has seen a sharp increase in absenteeism since the funding impasse began on Dec. 22, particularly after workers missed their first paycheck last Friday. In a news release Wednesday on checkpoint operations, the agency said, “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”

TSA screeners were ordered to continue working without pay because their jobs are considered critical to security.

Agency officials are finding that employees have often been honest when they notify superiors they can’t make it to the office, Administrator David Pekoske said. Pekoske’s comments, first reported in a tweet by CBS News reporter Kris Van Cleave, were confirmed by TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.

“We are hearing from our workforce that many of them are calling out not because they are sick but because they are unable to make it to work for financial reasons,” Bilello said.

The agency hasn’t compiled the specific reasons, but officials assume it’s because of such things as transportation and childcare costs, he said. There are no plans to discipline employees who cite such financial issues.

The more than 51,000 airport security officers make an average of about $41,000 a year, according to federal data from May 2017.

Wait times at a handful of airports have shot up as the TSA was forced to close some screening lanes, but overall screening across the nation has been within normal ranges, according to the agency. On Tuesday, 6.1 percent of security officers were absent, compared to 3.7 percent on the same day a year ago.

More than a dozen agencies and departments have been shut down since Dec. 22 in a dispute between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over money for a wall on the Mexico border.