Last Friday, marked the second payday that about 500 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at the San Jose International Airport did not receive a paycheck.
A few hours after the continuing resolution to re-open the government was signed by President Trump last Friday, James Mudrock, President of Local 1230 of the American Federation of Government Employees that represents TSA workers at San Jose International Airport, was clear about two things:
“We’re tired of being used as hostages. Using essential government workers like TSA agents and air traffic controllers as bargaining chips is reprehensible,” and secondly, “We’re very gratified and grateful for the outpouring of support we received from passengers and the community during the shutdown,” Mudrock said.
“We’ve never seen this sort of community support before. We’ve never really had passengers see us as who we are, as mothers and fathers with bills to pay, who come to work day after day to insure their safety. The community support was wonderful, and we sure hope it continues-and we sure don’t want to be in this situation again after three weeks,” Mudrock said.
Particular concern about the safety of airport traffic and sufficient TSA agents and air traffic controllers apparently had a role in the president’s decision to relent on his demands before re-opening the government. LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey were both experiencing 90-minute delays in takeoffs on Friday, Jan. 25, due to the shutdown. The world’s busiest airport — Atlanta International — was experiencing particularly long security wait times, something the city did not want a week before the Super Bowl when 150,000 visitors were expected.
Although essential TSA agents and air traffic controllers were not getting paid, reports were that San Jose International Airport was functioning well in the weeks prior to the end of the shutdown on its 35th day. According to Rosemary Barnes, Public Information Manager for the San Jose Airport, line wait times were “manageable”, and the number of TSA agents not showing up for work actually decreased over the last few weeks, compared to the early weeks just after the shut-down began on Dec. 22.
The community support activities for the unpaid yet mandatory TSA agents, including free food made available by Second Harvest Food Bank at the airport and an emergency, no-interest “payday” loan program getting set up by the City of San Jose, may have had a positive influence on morale and reduction of sick-out vacancies at the airport, according to Barnes. Vacancies in TSA staff not showing up for work were as high as 15 percent in the first few weeks of the shutdown, but dropped to 3 percent in the last week before the shutdown ended.
Carolyn Bauer, a TSA Lead Transportation Security Officer at the airport, said before the shutdown ended that she was trying to stay positive, and doing her best to raise morale with her co-workers when she could. Bauer is a Certified Behavioral Technician, and is not involved in actual customer or baggage checks, but patrols the airport for suspicious behavior, often with the assistance of K-9 officers and their handlers. Bauer said her job takes focus and attention, and she continued working with mission of the TSA in mind-insuring the safety of passengers- despite not getting paid.
“We’ve been doing a really good job, and I try to encourage my fellow workers to support and care for each other, and just focus on the job- keeping passengers safe- and not just hanging out in the break room complaining about unpaid bills,” Bauer said on Jan. 24, the day before the shutdown ended.
Bauer was worried that if the government shutdown dragged on, more and more of her TSA colleagues would simply run out of money and were either taking or planning emergency measures to get by. Bauer estimated that missing the first paycheck had serious effects on the pocketbooks of about 25-30 percent of her co-workers with no savings, missing the second paycheck effected about 50-70 percent of the TSA workforce, but missing the third paycheck in a row would affect everybody, “Including me,” Bauer said.
“I’m lucky because my husband and I have supportive families we can borrow from, but I know a lot of people who aren’t so lucky,” Bauer said.
Bauer explained the support of the community, including Second Harvest Food Bank setting up a “humongous” table of food at the airport for TSA workers and air traffic controllers and the city’s proposed loan program until the shutdown is over, did make a difference with morale.
“People (were) networking and getting over their shame about accepting help. I heard my co-workers say ‘Okay, I’m finally going to go get some free food. You want to come with me?’ — and it seems so much easier when everyone is doing it,” Bauer said.
Mudrock said that he, and the workers he represents in his local, are happy to be finally getting paid, but continues to worry about the temporary nature of the continuing resolution that re-opened the government until Feb. 15.
“It seems that positions on what caused the shut-down can turn on a dime, and when you have people in the administration saying, ‘You just have to endure a little pain for the larger good,’ it’s clear the administration is so out of touch with what we’ve been going through that it’s incomprehensible,” Mudrock said.