As the partial government shutdown enters day 17, federal workers around the country are facing the reality of missed paychecks and the impact that will have on their lives – with more than 50,000 Transportation Security Officers and staff unsure about when they will be paid again.
“It is completely unacceptable that the women and men who risk their lives safeguarding our airports are still required to report for work without knowing when they'll be paid again,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. “TSA Officers already have the least amount of rights of any federal officer, some of the lowest pay and highest attrition rates in government, and among the lowest morale of any federal agency. Working for weeks on end without being compensated – while already being short-staffed – only makes their situation worse.”
AFGE, which represents more than 44,000 TSA Officers, sued the federal government last week on behalf of AFGE members and federal employees being forced to work without pay. In their statement on the lawsuit, AFGE said requiring federal employees to “work without pay is nothing short of inhumane.”
“Every day I'm getting calls from my members about their extreme financial hardships and need for a paycheck. Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” said AFGE TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas. “The loss of officers, while we're already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don't have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires. Our TSOs already do an amazing job without the proper staffing levels, but if this keeps up there are problems that will arise – least of which would be increased wait times for travelers.”
At TSA, what was once a workforce of around 47,000 dealing with 740 million passengers a year, has now dwindled to around 44,000 workers servicing 851 million passengers annually. The agency's attrition rate has grown steadily this decade, peaking in 2014 when 373 people joined the agency and 4,644 left; as a result, TSA ranks near the bottom of all federal agencies in employee engagement with a 2017 score of 41.9, ranking 336 out of 339 agencies polled.
“Our officers have undergone a tremendous amount of training and taken an oath to protect this country,” said Thomas. “They are highly specialized in screening passengers and do so better than any private contractor, but we're risking losing them by offering no pay for long hours and dangerous work. Congress and the administration must get their priorities right and reopen the government so we can pay these officers for the work they've done and not risk losing any more than we already have.”
“The federal government should be a model employer for this country, but right now they're failing,” Thomas added. “I just hope our elected leaders stop using federal workers and the valuable services we provide as pawns in their political games. Our work is too important and the risks are too great, and any fallout resulting from it would leave our elected officials entirely to blame.”
“For the last 18 years our TSA Officers have done extraordinary work keeping the traveling public safe,” said Cox. “Every day they step foot into our airports they are putting their lives on the line to protect us, and they deserve to be compensated for that sacrifice.”
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is the largest federal employee union, representing 700,000 workers in the federal government and the government of the District of Columbia.