TSA union warns shutdown could lead to 'massive' airport security risk

As the partial government shutdown drags into its third week, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are at risk of being unpaid – which includes the nation’s airport security officers.

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While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said in a statement that there have not yet been discernible disruptions at airports – many of its more than 51,000 employees could go without paychecks for the first time this week if political leaders fail to reach a spending resolution.

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – the largest federal employee union – which represents more than 44,000 TSA officers, said the uncertainty is causing “extreme financial hardships.”

“Some of [my members] have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” AFGE TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas said in a statement. “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.”

While the shutdown has been underway, unscheduled TSA absences have increased to 4.6 percent, when compared with 3.8 percent during the same period last year, a spokesperson for the agency said.

As of 2016, TSA was 6,000 officers below its 2011 peak.

TSA officers are among the federal employees considered essential to security who have been ordered to work without pay while funding for their department is halted.

Despite increased sick absences, TSA noted that wait times have not significantly increased at the nation’s airports. Nearly all 2 million passengers that traveled on Monday waited less than 30 minutes to be screened, according to the agency spokesperson.

TSA did note, however, that the lapse in funding is “increasingly stressful” for all TSA employees.

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“The federal government should be a model employer for this country, but right now they’re failing,” Thomas said. “I just hope our elected leaders stop using federal workers and the valuable services we provide as pawns in their political games.”

The federal government shut down on Dec. 22, over an impasse between President Trump and Democrats over funding for a wall along the country’s southern border. The president has said the shutdown could continue for months, or even years.

Typically, employees that work without pay during a shutdown receive back pay once the government is up and running again.