Stories are spreading of skyrocketing airport wait-times around the country as federal employees with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) call out sick.
TSA agents, who handle airport security nationwide, are required to work despite the federal shutdown, despite not receiving their paychecks. And reports are emerging of workers calling in sick to avoid having to work without earning their pay, with shortages and significant wait-times specifically reported at airports in Houston and Atlanta.
That’s not been a big reported problem at Philadelphia International Airport, but according to Joe Shuker, head of the TSA union local chapter, everyone has their limit.
“Sooner or later these guys are going to break,” Shuker told 6ABC Tuesday. “They’re not going to have any means to come to work.”
6ABC said that nationwide, double the normal number of TSA screeners have called out sick.
According to the “myTSA” app, unusual wait-times were not being reported at Philadelphia International Airport as of Tuesday afternoon.
“PHL continues to work closely with the airlines and the TSA to monitor security screening operations and is prepared, in collaboration with our partners, to implement contingency plans if necessary to ensure that TSA operational standards are maintained,” an airport spokeswoman said via email. “TSA operations continue to function normally at PHL and there has been no impact to airport operations due to the federal government shutdown.”
But around the country, hundreds of TSA employees reportedly called out sick after federal workers missed their first paycheck on Friday. Some have even turned to food pantries and other charities that they used to collect donations for at their airports.
TSA confirmed that unscheduled absences among its employees rose to 7.7 percent from 5.6 percent on Saturday, Jan. 12, more than double the 3.2 percent rate they saw one year ago.
The TSA said in a statement on Sunday that security had not been compromised at U.S. airports.
But screener staffing shortages did force George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston to shut down a security checkpoint and ticketing counter in Terminal B on Sunday, the airport said in a statement.
Miami International Airport closed Concourse G for part of the weekend, because not enough TSA workers were present to staff the security checkpoint.
The screeners are among the lowest-paid federal employees. While they will be paid once the shutdown ends, many say they will struggle to pay bills in the meantime.
Additional reporting by Reuters