TSA Faces Workforce Strain, Traveler Delay Risks in Shutdown

  • Many security checkpoint workers live paycheck to paycheck
  • Pause in compensation could contribute to staff shortages

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The Transportation Security Administration is gearing up for another prospective shutdown that would strain the workforce and risk delays for travelers.

About 50,000 security checkpoint officers will have to work without pay if Congress fails to pass a government funding bill before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, just months after they received long-sought pay raises.

“There’s a sense of disappointment to have somewhat of a high this summer and then to feel this familiar sense of dread,” said Victor Payes, a leader of TSA Council 100, the American Federation of Government Employees union for the agency.

TSA has been screening an average of 2.5 million passengers daily in recent months, exceeding pre-pandemic travel volumes. A strain on the TSA workforce, as well as Federal Aviation Administration employees, could contribute to staffing shortages and delays and disrupt the air travel industry’s recovery.

Aviation System ‘At Risk’ as Shutdown Threat, FAA Furloughs Loom

The White House pointed to the potential travel impacts Wednesday in a memo denouncing many House Republicans’ efforts to slash federal spending and shirk bipartisan negotiations on a government funding deal. Republicans are tying a proposed stopgap funding bill to spending cuts and border legislation that would force tight restrictions on asylum.

‘Paycheck to Paycheck’

While checkpoint workers and thousands of other TSA employees would be deemed “excepted” from furlough requirements during a shutdown — and be forced to work without pay — about 3,000 would be sent home, according to a Department of Homeland Security updated contingency plan.

“A lot of these people live paycheck to paycheck,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) said in an interview. “What’s to say that they just won’t call in sick and go work somewhere else to make ends meet? This is not good.”

TSA reported an increase in employees calling in sick during the last government shutdown in late 2018 and early 2019, and officials advised travelers to brace for potential delays as a result.

TSA, Congress Brace for Possible Backlash Due to Paycheck Lapse

“It’s just an example of why there’s no sense in allowing a shutdown,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Johnny Jones, secretary-treasurer of TSA Council 100, said workers won’t call in sick, but they may be unable to make it to work because of financial strain leaving them unable to afford childcare or gas. “Ninety-nine percent are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said in an interview.

The agency’s employees have long been among the worst-paid in the federal government, though they recently received pay increases. Workers would receive back pay at the end of a shutdown.

A shutdown could also result in halting TSA training programs, which would cause long-term impacts to the agency, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.), whose Las Vegas-area district is home to a TSA training center, said in an interview.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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