Donald Trump claims he partially shut down the federal government because he wants a border wall to make the country safer. But one of the consequences of that shutdown actually appears to be making the country less safe.
Hundreds of screeners employed by the Transportation Security Administration have called in sick at airports across the country since the shutdown started on Dec. 22, CNN and The New York Times reported on Friday.
Who can blame them? As long as the Trump shutdown drags on, which could be “years” according to the president, TSA workers are among the 420,000 federal employees being asked to work their shifts without pay.
“This will definitely affect the flying public who we (are) sworn to protect,” TSA employee union president Hydrick Thomas told CNN.
At least 170 TSA workers have called in sick at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the report said. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has seen the so-called “call outs” increase by up to 300%, it added. Other airports are reporting similar trends.
With an interesting choice of words, one union official at Dallas-Fort Worth told CNN the problem could “explode over the next week or two.”
To reassure the flying public, Department of Homeland Security Press Secretary Tyler Houlton took to Twitter to call CNN’s report “More #FakeNews.”
“Security operations at airports have not been impacted by a non-existent sick out. CNN has the cell numbers of multiple @TSA public affairs professionals, but rather than validate statistics, they grossly misrepresented them,” Houlton tweeted.
However, a statement by the TSA contradicted Houlton’s claim that a “sick out” isn’t occurring, although the TSA downplayed its effect on the nation’s security. “TSA is closely monitoring the situation. Call outs began over the Holiday period and have increased, but are causing minimal impact given there are 51,739 employees supporting the screening process,” the TSA statement said.
Passenger wait times for security screening could increase, the TSA acknowledged, but so far, they remain “within TSA standards.”
Two of the sources, who are federal officials, described the sick outs as protests of the paycheck delay. One called it the “blue flu,” a reference to the blue shirts worn by transportation security officers who screen passengers and baggage at airport security checkpoints.
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.
An average TSA worker’s salary is about $37,000, Splinter previously reported.
One possible measure TSA could enact, according to CNN, is relaxing baggage checks, based on the theory that a passenger wouldn’t bring a bomb onto a plane because it also would kill the passenger who brought it. Holy shit is that not reassuring. Like, at all.
Trump responded to the TSA’s situation on Saturday—not to address security concerns, but rather to praise Houlton for his “FakeNews” tweet.
“Great Tweet today by Tyler Q. Houlton @SpoxDHS on the #FakeNews being put out by @CNN, a proud member of the Opposition Party. @TSA is doing a great job!” Trump tweeted.
In an earlier tweet, Trump said, “I don’t care that most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats, I want to stop the Shutdown as soon as we are in agreement on Strong Border Security!”