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by | Jan 5, 2019 | Current Events, Government, News, Politics | 0 comments

Airport screeners are calling out sick in increasing numbers, while some workers are fretting about where their next paycheck will come from as a partial U.S. government shutdown enters its third week.

The impact from thinner ranks at the country’s airports has had a minimal impact so far, according to the Transportation Security Administration, but the agency warned that travelers may have to wait longer at security lines. Standard wait times are 30 minutes for standard checkpoints, and 10 minutes for TSA’s PreCheck.

“We have seen some call outs over the holiday period and they have increased, but are causing minimal impact given there are 51,739 employees supporting the screening process,” the TSA told CNBC in a statement.

“Wait times may be affected depending on the number of call outs, however to date, screening wait times remain well within TSA standards,” the statement read.

TSA agents, air traffic controllers and customs and immigration officials, which screen travelers coming into the country, are among the some 420,000 federal employees who are still required to work amid the shutdown without pay. Other employees were furloughed.

The mass call outs could inevitably mean air travel is less secure, especially as the shutdown enters its second week with no clear end to the political stalemate in sight.

“This will definitely affect the flying public who we (are) sworn to protect,” Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the agency is “closely monitoring the situation” and that “screening wait times remain well within TSA standards,” although that could change if the number of call outs increases.

At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, as many as 170 TSA employees have called out each day this week, Thomas tells CNN. Officers from a morning shift were required to work extra hours to cover the gaps.

Call outs have increased by 200%-300% at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where typically 25 to 30 TSA employees call out from an average shift according to a local TSA official familiar with the situation.

Union officials stress that the absences are not part of an organized action, but believe the number of people calling out will likely increase.

“This problem of call outs is really going to explode over the next week or two when employees miss their first paycheck,” a union official at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport told CNN. “TSA officers are telling the union they will find another way to make money. That means calling out to work other jobs.”

A union official, however, said that while some employees are upset about the pay, officers have said they are calling in sick for more practical reasons. Single parents can no longer afford child care or they are finding cash-paying jobs outside of government work to pay their rent and other bills, for example.

About a quarter of the government, including TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, have been without funding since December 22. Some 55,000 TSA employees who screen around 800 million passengers a year are considered essential and are among the 420,000 federal workers expected to continue working without pay.

A Customs and Border Protection officer who screens passengers coming into the United States, told CNBC that “people are suffering” but that officers are still showing up because “we took an oath.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Another TSA agent said he was ready to dip into his savings to make ends meet if funding doesn’t materialize so his paycheck is issued by next Friday.

“Everyone should have a plan for this stuff if you work for the federal government,” he said.

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