The Transportation Security Administration plans to begin closing a handful of security checkpoints at airports around the U.S. this weekend in response to staff shortages as effects of the three-week partial federal government shutdown begin to expand.
TSA employees called in sick in higher numbers on Saturday, the day after their first missed paycheck since the U.S. government wound down on Dec. 22. Representatives for TSA employees say that number is likely to rise as the shutdown drags on.
“This morning, TSA experienced a national rate of 5.6 percent unscheduled absences compared to a 3.3 percent rate one year ago, Saturday, January 13, 2018. Most importantly, security standards remain uncompromised at our nation’s airports,” Michael Bilello, a TSA spokesman, tweeted on Saturday morning.
Miami International Airport expects to shut a security checkpoint in Concourse G after 1 p.m. Saturday through Monday, and travelers will be directed to other checkpoints.
United Continental Holdings Inc. operates some flights at that concourse. “We do not expect any operational impact as we have arranged to fully utilize alternate gates for flights originally scheduled out of Terminal G,” said Rachel Rivas, a United spokeswoman.
TSA routinely opens and closes screening lanes as volume at airports rises and falls, Bilello said.
“We don’t believe the current situation is sustainable. We’re advocating for other solutions to make sure that TSA agents get paid,” said Christopher Bidwell, a senior vice president at the Airports Council International-North America in Washington, which represents airports.
As an alternative source of pay for TSA agents, Bidwell suggests the small September 11 Security Fee that every passenger pays as part of airfare.
“That fee is still being collected by the airlines and remitted to TSA to be used for salary, benefits and overtime, and that’s not happening. It’s troubling from our perspective,” Bidwell said.
“They have bills to pay, children to feed, and that’s why we’re looking to pay them so they don’t seek other employment,” he added.
In similar shutdowns, Congress and the White House have always agreed to pay back wages to government employees, though some contractors haven’t been paid in arrears. The House on Friday passed legislation that would give federal workers back pay. The Senate already passed the measure, which now goes to President Donald Trump for signature.
Unlike TSA officers who are deemed essential, hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been furloughed.
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