U.S. shutdown stokes air safety fears

Employees with the Transportation Security Administration walk through Reagan National Airport in Washington. Reuters

Union employees from the American Federation of Government Employees District 7 rallied outside the McNamara federal building Thursday.

AFGE says employees shouldn't have to worry about payment and the public shouldn't have to be concerned about safe airports, border security, stable housing or government assistance. "If this keeps up there are problems that will arise - least of which would be increased wait times for travelers". The union, which represents more than 10,000 air-traffic controllers, filed suit in federal court in Washington on Friday, charging that it's illegal to force them and other aviation employees to work without compensation.

Unions will hold a rally on Thursday on Capitol Hill urging an end to the shutdown. That's raising concerns that TSA will see even more employees calling in sick and dropping shifts as they pursue other options for income if the shutdown continues.

The Transportation Security Administration said that 5.1 percent of screeners were absent on Thursday, up from 3.3 percent on the same date past year.

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That would force companies to consider unemployed USA workers for entry-level jobs instead of bringing in workers from overseas. The dispute has led to a partial shutdown of the US government that is now in its 21st day.

U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, asked the Trump administration how it is ensuring adequate staffing at airports. "If not for the shutdown, NATCA members would have begun to receive direct deposit of their pay into their accounts as of this morning".

TSA hasn't heard of any other airport planning to shut an entire concourse like the one in Miami, Bilello said. A almost equal number of federal workers are not deemed "essential" and have been placed on temporary leave, and their absence is affecting some functions ranging from FAA inspections of aircraft to CBP interviews with applicants for Global Entry status. "It is only reasonable to expect officer call-outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts, since no employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay". "In order to maintain the right level of staffing, it's critical to have a continuous process of recruiting, training and getting new officers to our nation's airports", Bilello said.

Union President Paul Rinaldi says there is already a shortage of controllers, and if current controllers decide to retire - about 1,900 are eligible - the government could be forced to restrict air traffic, creating flight delays.

Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma City has been closed as a result of the shutdown and simulator trainings have been disrupted. The FAA suspended training and limited safety efforts to "urgent continued operational activity to protect life and property". After the skipped check, Shuker said it may only be days before some workers can't afford to travel to work.

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