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Not Yet a Strike But a 'Work Stoppage Nonetheless': Unpaid TSA Agents Calling Out at Unsustainable Rates

"At some point TSA workers won't be able to afford childcare to come to work, and they'll have to look for other jobs."

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker screens passengers and airport employees at O'Hare International Airport on January 07, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Amid continued calls for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers to go on strike and with hundreds of thousands of federal employees set to miss their second paycheck on Friday if the government is not reopened before then, the TSA announced that a record 10 percent of its 51,000 employees did not show up for work on Sunday, with many citing economic restrictions and hardship caused by the ongoing shutdown.

"It doesn’t exactly look like what a strike normally looks like, but it is a work stoppage nonetheless."
—Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

"TSA experienced a national rate of 10 percent of unscheduled absences compared to a 3.1 percent rate one year ago on the same day, Jan. 20, 2018," the agency said in a statement on Monday. "Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations."

At some airports across the country, the shortage of TSA agents has resulted in security checkpoint closures and longer-than-normal wait times. In response to initial reports of a rise in TSA agent absences earlier this month, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton called the uptick in absences "fake news."

Houlton has yet to respond to the TSA's latest figures.

Ahead of the TSA's Monday announcement, Washington Post reporter Robert Costa wrote on Twitter that two senior Republicans close to the White House told him the only way for a real breakthrough in shutdown negotiations "is if TSA employees stay home and Americans get furious about their flights."

Speaking to Time, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport spokesperson Patrick Hogan warned that wait times are only going to get longer as the government shutdown over President Donald Trump's demand for over $5 billion in border wall funding deprives tens of thousands of workers of the pay they need to survive.

"It's not a sustainable situation," Hogan warned. "At some point TSA workers won't be able to afford childcare to come to work, and they'll have to look for other jobs."

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According to a New York Times analysis, "Airport screeners make $41,000 per year on average, and have missed about $2,700 in wages so far."

The rise in TSA agent call-outs comes as some are urging the unpaid airport screeners to go on strike to pressure President Donald Trump and the Republican Party to reopen the government.

In an interview on Democracy Now! last week, long-time activist and journalist Barbara Ehrenreich expressed support for a TSA employee strike and said "if enough airport workers were to either walk away from the job or go on strike, that would shut down the airports."

"And that would be—that would just shut down the economy," Ehrenreich concluded. "They couldn't, we wouldn't, I think even Trump wouldn't let that last for more than a few hours."

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