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Congressman Mike Quigley

Representing the 5th District of Illinois

The Chicago Tribune: TSA worker absences double as shutdown drags on

Jan 14, 2019
In the News

A link to this article can be found here

The number of Transportation Security Administration workers calling in sick has more than doubled over the same time last year, as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history entered its 24th day on Monday.

The shortage of workers is affecting operations at some large airports, including Washington-Dulles, where checkpoints are being consolidated. Chicago airports continued to see normal operations Monday, with wait times of less than 15 minutes, said aviation department spokeswoman Karen Pride.

The shutdown impacts 800,000 federal workers, with some on furlough and others, like TSA security employees and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, are required to work even though their paychecks showed only zeroes last Friday.

The TSA saw 7.6 percent of its workers call in unscheduled absences on Monday, compared with 4.6 percent a week earlier and 3.2 percent on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, according to TSA spokesman Michael Bilello.

Miami International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Washington-Dulles International Airport are all exercising “contingency plans” to maintain security standards, Bilello said. The TSA will reallocate screening officers on a national basis to meet shortages that cannot be addressed locally, he said.

President Donald Trump wants $5.7 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico, and he has threatened to keep the government shut down until he gets it. Democrats say the wall would be a poor use of federal money, and talks to reopen the government have so far failed.

Toby Hauck, president of the local branch of the Air Traffic Controllers union, who attended a news conference with Illinois Democratic congressional representatives at O’Hare on Monday, said in an interview that he has not seen people calling in sick at a higher rate. “People are dedicated to their jobs,” Hauck said.

However, he said that not getting paid is adding stress to an already stressful job. Many controllers already work six-day weeks.

Hauck said that some younger controllers have told him they are thinking about getting part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Hauck told reporters that training at the FAA academy for new workers has stopped, as has training in each facility to implement new procedures and new equipment.

Security expert and frequent flier Bruce Schneier said he is not worried about the safety of the airspace system as the shutdown continues.

“I worry about getting through security in reasonable time,” said Schneier, a fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center.

Illinois congressional representatives, including Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Sean Casten, Jan Schakowsky, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Mike Quigley, called on Trump and Congressional Republicans to end the shutdown. Last week, both Democratic U.S. senators from Illinois, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, also conducted news conferences, calling for an end to the shutdown.