It's hard to blame DFW Airport's Transportation Security Administration agents for being unprepared at this point. For federal workers, a government shutdown is always looming, an event out of their control that can be forced on them at any time. Those employed by the TSA and other federal agencies around Dallas know they are at risk. What workers and their union leaders couldn't have foreseen is just how long the current shutdown, the Trump shutdown, might last.
Over the weekend, shutdown fatigue had clearly set in for unpaid TSA agents manning a security checkpoint in DFW's Terminal E. Saturday morning, travelers who thanked agents for being at their posts, rather than joining the growing number of their colleagues who are calling in sick, were greeted with a smile and a weary shrug. Gratitude from travelers who might normally grumble about the time they spent waiting in line is nice, but it doesn't pay the rent.
Wednesday, with many federal workers two days away from missing another paycheck because of the now nearly month-old shutdown, DFW TSA agents and other federal workers staked out a spot on the upper level of Terminal D at the airport, trying to make enough noise to make a difference.
"Hey, Senate, pay me, help me feed my family," they chanted at cars making drop-offs and anyone within shouting range.
"Travelers know what's going on," Rudy Garcia, president of the American Federation of Government Employees 1040 local, said at the protest Wednesday. "A lot of them ask, 'What can we do to help you?' Well, because we're federal employees, we can't accept money, because there's a penalty for that — like getting fired — so, what we tell them is to call their congressman or call their congresswoman."
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Sandra Felix, a vice president in the local union, said the unpaid workers are just doing what they can but admitted feeling unsure about how much influence they had on the process.
"I wonder who it is that the commander in chief talks to when he says that we want him to keep going. I don't know who he's talking to. I am a single mom, so I really can't have him keep going with this," Felix said.
According to the latest numbers from the TSA, 6.1 percent of the agency's security agents were absent without previous permission on Tuesday, up from 3.7 percent on Jan. 16, 2018. At DFW, the maximum wait time for travelers in a standard security line was 20 minutes. For those with PreCheck status, the maximum wait was 4 minutes.