Transportation Security Administration officers across the country are calling out sick at unusually high rates as they go without pay during the partial government shutdown, according to multiple media outlets.
With no end to the shutdown in sight, employee union officials and TSA officials said Friday the callouts, first reported by CNN, are affecting major airports and have forced other workers, who are also not getting paid, to pick up the slack.
At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, callouts have increased to three times their normal levels, Jerome Coleman, a TSA officer and former local union president who has worked at the airport for 16 years, told BuzzFeed News.
“We’re short staffed,” Coleman said. “We’re going to do our job the best we can with what we’ve got.”
As many as 170 TSA employees at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York have called out each day this week, Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN. Another TSA official told the network callouts have increased by 200% to 300% at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.
The agency acknowledged the situation in a statement on Twitter, confirming that callouts have increased but that they were causing “minimal impact.”
“Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change,” the agency said. “Wait times may be affected depending on the number of call outs. To date, however screening wait times remain well within TSA standards.”
Union leaders said the mass callouts were not an organized effort, but admitted that the shutdown, which has left an estimated 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay, is causing undue stress for members.
“They are not coming to work because they don’t have the money to get to work. They’re not just taking off,” Thomas told the Washington Post. “They’re not saying, ‘We’re going to shut things down.’ They are the lowest-paid employees in the federal government, and they don’t have the money to get to work.”
Bobby Orozco Jr., a regional TSA union vice president, said employees were “being used as political pawns by politicians.”
“Our families are suffering with us during this difficult time, yet we remain resolved in our hope that Congress will end this shutdown as soon as possible,” Orozco said in an email to BuzzFeed News.
Coleman, who has continued to go to work during the partial shutdown, said he wasn’t sure why some of his coworkers were calling out sick, but added that if the government isn’t opened up soon he may have to look for a new job.
“I’ve notified my bill collectors and stuff like that but they still want to get their money,” he said. “For me, it’s just, I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.”