TSA union: ‘Our morale is now at an all-time low’
Bills, mortgages, child care, food: These are the things Transportation Security Administration workers at Pittsburgh International Airport worry about on the 28th day of the partial government shutdown.
“There are real people out here, fighting for their lives, fighting for their homes, fighting to feed their kids,” said Ava Basalyga, a TSA officer working at Pittsburgh International Airport.
She joined colleagues, union leaders and elected officials for a rally in support of TSA workers, as well as all federal workers furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown, at the airport Friday morning.
“Our morale is now at an all-time low,” American Federation of Government Employees Local 332 President Bill Reese said. “There seems to be no end in sight.”
Local 332 represents about 240 TSA workers at Pittsburgh International Airport, and a total of about 500 workers across the state. They were allowed to participate in the rally as long as they were off-duty and not in uniform, Reese said.
Many of the employees who work at Pittsburgh International Airport commute from Ohio and West Virginia, Reese said. As their finances become even more strained, those employees could start to have trouble making it to work, even if they want to be there, he said.
“The other problem is this: They cannot sign up for unemployment benefits,” said Phil Glover, vice president of AFGE District 3, which represents federal workers in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Furloughed employees who are not working may apply for unemployment benefits, and those working without pay are not eligible under Pennsylvania statute, he said.
“They are in a catch-22 here,” Glover said.
On Thursday, 6.4 percent of the national TSA workforce reported unscheduled absences, compared to 3.8 percent on the same day in 2018, as more employees report that they are not able to come to work because of financial limitations, according to a statement released by the TSA Friday.
“Our union does not advocate for any mass-not-come-to-work thing,” Glover said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald thanked TSA workers, air traffic controllers and customs workers for not only keeping passengers safe, but also keeping the local economy moving.
“I can’t imagine what would happen to our business community and our workers, beyond the federal workers, if our businesses couldn’t do business around the country,” Fitzgerald said, adding that as a result of the shutdown, some small businesses have been unable to secure the loans they need to operate.
Members of other area unions, including United Steel Workers, Communications Workers of America, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the Teamsters also came out to show their support.
Many held signs: “All work, no pay, doesn’t feed a family” and “Steelworkers support our federal workers,” they read.
Other signs singled out Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — “TSA: Toomey Should Act” or “Tell McConnell: Give us a vote” — urging the lawmakers to take action in the Senate that would move legislation to reopen the government forward.
Toomey was not present at the rally. He announced support for two bills Thursday that would allow paychecks to be distributed to federal workers and contractors, as well as prevent future shutdowns, according to a statement from spokesman Steve Kelly.
“It is time to end government by crisis. Every time Congress can’t agree on a funding bill, it’s our constituents and government employees that bear the brunt of Washington’s dysfunction,” Toomey said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, who were present at the rally Friday, called on their Republican colleagues in Congress to compromise over funding for a border wall.
“Reopen the government and get people back to work, that’s number one,” Doyle said. “When they do that, Democrats will sit with them and negotiate over border security. And that’s the way it ought to be.”
Lamb called the shutdown “sinful.”
“It’s literally in the Bible that you pay people what they earn when they do hard work,” he said. “And we’re failing to do that.”
Businesses operating in the airport and around the Greater Pittsburgh community have offered to donate meals to federal workers over the past two weeks, airport spokesman Bob Kerlik said.
McDonald’s, which operates inside the main terminal, donated about 200 meals throughout the day Friday, he said. Airport staff helped to distribute those meals to break rooms.
Jenna Erickson, 24, of Oakdale, helped arrange the boxed McDonald’s meals when they arrived in a break room near the alternate checkpoint Friday afternoon. She said that finances could get tight if the shutdown continues.
The donated meals have helped improve morale.
“It helps kind of give us a little boost to push on through the shutdown,” she said.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, email@example.com or via Twitter .