TSA absences raise stakes in shutdown fight

TSA absences raise stakes in shutdown fight
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Absences by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers are spiking, creating long lines and delays at airports as the partial government shutdown grinds toward the end of a fourth week.

The percentage of TSA agents missing their shifts rose to 7.6 percent on Monday, over twice the 3.2 percent rate from the same time last year and 50 percent higher than last week’s rate. 

The increase appears to be linked to the shutdown, which has left roughly 50,000 TSA agents working without pay. The workers missed their first paycheck Friday as a result of the shutdown, now in its 24th day.

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In Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport, security lines extended upwards of an hour on Monday as six security lanes were closed. 

Over the weekend, Dulles airport outside of Washington, D.C., and the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston cut back the number of operational security checkpoints.

From Saturday to Monday, Miami International Airport said it would close down an entire terminal at least part of each day due to understaffing.

Air traffic controllers are also working without pay.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) has started to distribute leaflets at airports describing the effects on employees and how it could exacerbate a staffing crisis.

Democrats have played up the problems for TSA workers, seeing an opportunity to foment political damage against Republicans. Parts of the government closed on Dec. 22 over a fight for funding for President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE’s proposed wall on the Mexican border. Polls show more people are blaming Trump for the shutdown for the shutdown than blame Democrats.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Battle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy MORE (D-Vt.) took to the Senate floor Monday to discuss a TSA agent named Anthony Morselli who had to start a GoFundMe donation account after he and his wife, also a TSA agent, missed their paychecks.

“They are proud of the work they do and the service they perform for their country.  And they are all caught in the crosshairs of the Trump shutdown,” he said of the couple and their fellow affected workers.

Some Senate Republicans have sought to contain any fallout even as they have blamed Democrats for the shutdown.

On Monday, Sens. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose CHC leaders urge Senate to oppose Chad Wolf nomination  MORE (R-Wis.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden Credit union group to spend million on Senate, House races MORE (R-Maine) introduced a bill that would pay the federal workers who must work through the shutdown because they are deemed essential.

Congress passed legislation last week that would give all workers furloughed or working without pay their lost salaries once the shutdown ends. But the Johnson and Collins measure would ensure that people who are working now would be paid now.

“If we’re requiring people to work, they should be paid. It’s just that cut and dry,” Johnson told The Hill. 

Collins sounded a similar note.

“I recently spoke with TSA workers in the Bangor airport, and it's just wrong that they are being required to work and not being paid,” she said.

In the meantime, aviation trade groups and unions have begun taking action on their own. 

Both the American Federation of Government Employees, a TSA union, and NATCA have each sued the government over requiring work without pay, and warned of the safety implications.

“No one should be under the illusion that it’s business as usual for aviation safety during a shutdown,” NATCA wrote in a letter to the White House and congressional Leaders. “Every day the shutdown continues, the negative consequences to the National Airspace System (NAS) and its employees are compounding.”