Most Systems Are Go for DFW TSA, Despite Fed Shutdown

A security line at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
A security line at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Josh Hallett
Dallas' airports are feeling the effects of President Donald Trump's government shutdown but aren't likely to face any serious pain for another couple of weeks, Transportation Security Administration union officials say.

Quoting unnamed local sources, CNN reported Friday afternoon that "call-outs" (sick days) by DFW Airport TSA agents are up 200-300 percent since the president shut down multiple federal agencies because Congress wouldn't approve $5 billion in funding for his probably-a-metaphor border wall. During the shutdown, TSA agents are working but not getting paid.

Rudy Garcia, president of the American Federation of Government Employees 1040 local, the union for Dallas TSA employees, told the Observer that, while he doesn't know the exact size of the increase in sick days being taken, it has led to fewer TSA agents being on hand at DFW than would be otherwise.

"There's a cap [TSA] has to go by and say, 'We cannot approve any more leave for this day,'" Garcia said. "If we're under that cap, we can approve the leave. They do this by terminal at DFW, and they do the same thing at Love Field. [Absences] are now above that cap. It could be 10 percent, it could be 150 percent. I don't know because I don't get those counts from management. They don't let me have that, but they do let me know that they're over the cap now."

So far, Garcia says, unplanned absences have remained relatively low, because TSA agents still haven't missed a paycheck. Over the next week, he says, workers will receive their last remaining direct deposit for work done before the December shutdown. If the shutdown continues past that point, more agents might call in sick to search for new employment or work at a second job.

"I can't speak for everybody, but it creates a burden — a financial burden — and it creates a burden on your mind, too." — Rudy Garcia

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"They're going to go find someplace to get some money, because they've got to pay bills," Garcia says. "I can't speak for everybody, but it creates a burden — a financial burden — and it creates a burden on your mind, too."

Checkpoints at DFW are running as usual, according to airport media relations manager Cynthia Vega.

"TSA staff have gone above and beyond to take care of our customers during the recent peak holiday travel period," Vega said Friday. "The DFW checkpoints the past several weeks have been in line with what we’ve seen over the same time period in the last several years."

If the shutdown drags on and staffing levels dip even lower, Garcia says, travelers could face fewer open lanes at Love Field's single security checkpoint and fewer open checkpoints at DFW.

TSA's Texas spokeswoman did not return an initial request for comment because she is on furlough during the shutdown, but Jim Gregory, the agency's deputy assistant administrator for public affairs, told the Observer on Friday night that, although call-outs have increased, they've caused a minimal impact on air travel thus far. The TSA continues to monitor the situation at DFW, he said.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young