WASHINGTON - Transportation Safety Administration officials said Friday they were monitoring reports that the nation's airports were experiencing an increase in "sick outs" as the partial federal government shutdown entered its third week.
"Call-outs have increased, but they're really having minimal impact," said TSA spokesman Jim Gregory. "To date the [checkpoint] wait times remain within TSA standards."
Those standards are a maximum of 30 minutes spent in a regular checkpoint line and 10 minutes for those who pass through the expedited line under the TSA's PreCheck program. Gregory said that on Thursday, 2.2 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints and 99.8 percent of them waited less than 30 minutes.
Union leaders said Friday that hundreds of TSA workers at major airports nationwide are off the job because they can't afford to get there.
"Fifty to 100 people are calling out at any particular airport," said Hydrick Thomas, president of the TSA union under the American Federation of Government Employees. "They are not coming to work because they don't have the money to get to work. They're not just taking off. They're not saying, 'We're going to shut things down.' They are the lowest-paid employees in the federal government, and they don't have the money to get to work."
Most federal workers are paid every two weeks. As a result, the checkpoint workers to whom Thomas refers have not yet missed a payday. Like federal air traffic controllers, who also are working without the promise of a payday, the TSA workers are due a paycheck next Friday.
Spokesmen for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which controls Reagan National and Dulles International airports, and for the Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport said they have not seen any increase in lines at TSA checkpoints.
"We don't get a head count of number of TSA workers on the job each day, but we have not seen longer lines that would be out of sync with where we are in the travel season," said MWAA spokesman Rob Yingling. "Right now it's the low season, now that the holidays are finished. Traffic is very light, and we have not seen any significant lines since the conclusion of Christmas."
Jonathan Dean at BWI said there has been no increase in waiting times at TSA checkpoints.
"To this point we've had normal checkpoint operations," Dean said. "We continue to closely monitor the situation and to work with our TSA counterparts."
About 51,000 TSA employees who screen passengers are considered essential. They are among the 420,000 federal workers who are expected to continue working without the promise of a paycheck next Friday. Traditionally, after a government shutdown, those essential workers have recouped their pay.