As President Trump orders 46,000 federal employees back to work without pay (while signing a bill to compensate all federal employees going without pay after the shutdown ends), the word around the water cooler at the TSA is that, six days after federal employees missed their first paycheck since the shutdown began, more of the airport security agency’s screeners and other employees are citing financial hardship as a reason for calling out of work as the shutdown enters its 27th day.
Though it hasn’t released data about absenteeism witnessed since the shutdown, in a news release Wednesday about checkpoint operations (released as airports around the country cut down on security lines or, like Houston Airport, close whole terminals, the agency said “many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations.”
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said that most employees who call out have been honest about their reasons, and the most common excuse he hears is financial hardship – like, for example, employees being unable to afford child care or transportation (i.e. no gas in the car).
#breaking @TSA_Pekoske confirms to @cbsnews the increase in @tsa sick calls is from officers calling out for financial reasons. It’s not a sick out, officers aren’t pretending to be sick. They are saying they cannot afford to work for free any longer. #shutdown
— Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave) January 16, 2019
TSA spokesman Michael Bilello confirmed this in a statement.
“We are hearing from our workforce that many of them are calling out not because they are sick but because they are unable to make it to work for financial reasons,” Bilello said.
There are no plans to punish workers who call out, the agency said. The TSA employs some 51,000 federal security workers who earn roughly $41,000 a year.
As of Tuesday, callout rates had roughly doubled from the same day a year earlier, with 6.1% of security officers absent, compared with 3.7% the year prior.
And now that Trump is ordering more airport security workers to return to work, expect this number to rise as the shutdown has no end in sight.