US airports seeing rise in security screeners calling off work

NEW YORK (AP) — The federal agency tasked with guaranteeing the United States (US) airport security acknowledged an increase in the number of its employees calling off work during the partial government shutdown .

Employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are expected to work without pay during the shutdown because their jobs are considered essential.

The TSA said in a statement last Friday that call outs that began over the holiday period have increased. The agency did not say how many of its employees have called out, but it said the call outs have had “minimal impact given that there are 51,739 employees supporting the screening process”. The statement said wait times “may be affected” but so far “remain well within TSA standards”. “TSA is closely monitoring the situation,” the agency statement said. “Security effectiveness will not be compromised.”

The Department of Homeland Security and President Donald Trump pushed back Saturday on suggestions that the call outs represented a “sickout” that was having significant consequences on US air travel. White House officials and congressional aides were in talks on Saturday to end the shutdown, which entered its 15th day. Negotiations are at an impasse over Trump’s demands for USD5.6 billion to fund a wall at the US-Mexico border.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello tweeted that 5.5 per cent of the TSA workforce at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport called out on Friday, compared with 3.5 per cent on a normal day. He said wait times “may be affected” but that all passengers would be screened as normal.

Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN that up to 170 TSA employees at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport have called out each day this week. Union officials did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Airport officials said no unusual screening delays were being experienced at JFK, Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports, or Miami International Airport.

A TSA worker at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. – AP