(CNN) – Hundreds of Transportation Safety Administration officers, forced to work without a pay check due to the partial closure of the government, have arrested at least four major airports at least this week, according to two officials of the agency and three representatives of the TSA employees union.
Massive calls could inevitably mean that air travel is less secure, especially as the stoppage enters its second week without any clear outcome to the political stalemate in sight.
"It's certainly going to affect the flying public that we've vowed to protect," CNN Hydrick Thomas, president of the TSA National Employees Union, told CNN.
TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the agency was "watching the situation closely" and "waiting times for filtering remained largely in line with TSA standards", although that it can change if the number of outgoing calls increases.
Thomas told CNN that 170 TSA employees had called daily at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The morning officers had to work overtime to fill the gaps.
Incoming calls have increased from 200% to 300% at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where 25 to 30 TSA employees generally call from an average shift, according to a local TSA official. current situation.
Union officials point out that absences are not part of organized action, but believe that the number of people appealing will probably increase.
"This problem of incoming calls will really explode over the next two weeks when employees will miss their first salary," CNN told a union official at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. "TSA agents tell the union they will find another way to make money. It means calling to work other jobs. "
Airports in North Carolina, including Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, reported a 10% increase in calls from the TSA, according to Mac Johnson, president of the local. "This number will get worse as it drags."
Outgoing calls "create vulnerability" and screening officers "do more with less," said Johnson.
Two of the sources, who are federal officials, described sick leave as protests against the delay in pay. One of them called the "blue flu," a reference to blue shirts worn by transport security officers who screen passengers and baggage at airport security checkpoints. .
A union official, however, said that while some employees were dissatisfied with pay, the officers said they were sick for more practical reasons. Single parents can no longer afford childcare expenses or find paid jobs outside the government to pay their rent and other bills, for example.
About a quarter of the government, including the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, have been without funding since December 22. Some 55,000 TSA employees, who control about 800 million passengers a year, are considered essential and are among the 420,000 federal public servants expected to continue working without paying.
"The incoming calls started during the holiday season and have increased, but have a minimal impact as 51,739 employees support the control process," Bilello told CNN in a statement, adding that the TSA had controlled 2.2 million passengers on Thursday and 99.8% expected less than expected. 30 minutes. "The effectiveness of safety will not be compromised and performance standards will not change."
However, "waiting times can be affected depending on the number of calls received," Bilello said.
"TSA is grateful to the officers who come to work, remain mission-focused and respectful of the traveling public as they continue the important work necessary to secure the country's transportation systems," he said.
The TSA has previously stated that the officers would eventually be paid.
"We have never had a situation where agents have not been paid," TSA Administrator David Pekoske told reporters as he demonstrated the security procedures at an airport in the Washington area. a few days before the start of the closure. He added that the recent judgments "have been so long that they do not delay the payment of wages".
President Donald Trump and congressional leaders met Friday at the White House and are not close to resolving the stalemate. A judgment could last months or even years, said President Trump, quoted by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
How TSA can solve the problem
The number of passengers on the move has increased by about 4% each of the last few years, said Pekoske in September. He said that growth "without a proportional increase in the size of our transport security staff … has had an impact on training and morale".
And the TSA is preparing to receive more calls next week, according to experienced field officials. This means that TSA officials in the country's airports, knowing that long lines of security are hindering passengers, could have difficult decisions to make, including deciding to let passengers board their flights with less control.
The big question is, "How do they fill the void?" Said one of the veterans of the TSA, worrying about the impact on safety. "If you do not see long waiting times at airports, they are not doing anything on the security side."
These officials say the potential options that airports could use include fewer random security checks on passengers, or accelerated screening of passengers who have not been screened for the PreCheck program. Airports struggling to staff personnel checkpoints may also begin to reduce the number of lanes open to passengers, which will likely result in longer lines and waiting times.
Airports with manpower problems may also choose to relax the standards for checked baggage based on the theory that people would not bring bombs on their own. flight, because the explosion would also kill them. Known as a positive baggage match, this assumes that if a passenger registers and gets on the flight, his checked baggage is safe, but some security experts doubt that this is effective.
There is no indication that any of these measures were necessary or implemented.
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