As the partial government shutdown drags into its fourth week, the patience of security agents at the Las Vegas airport is growing thin.
Though they haven’t received a paycheck in almost a month, the majority of the almost 1,200 Transportation Security Administration agents at McCarran International Airport have carried out their work as normally as possible.
“We are doing the best we can,” said Becky Esquivel, transportation security officer at the airport and chief steward of the local chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Morale is low and stress is very high at McCarran, and this concerns me.”
Esquivel, who’s worked for the TSA for 13 years in southern Nevada, said that TSA workers are among the lowest paid federal employees, so showing up and not getting paid makes the situation even worse.
TSA screeners make between $24,000 for new hires and $35,000 on the high end, though some can earn more due to seniority, overtime or level of management responsibility, the Associated Press reported.
While there have been calls for TSA employees to strike, Esquivel said doing so would be against the law as TSA agents are considered “essential” employees and are required to show up for work whether or not they’re being paid.
With reports of TSA workers increasingly calling in sick at airports across the nation, Esquivel said callouts among McCarran agents have been within “normal range.”
Esquivel said she’s concerned about the possibility of action being taken against those who miss work for a prolonged time, and she’s spoken to management about it.
“We don’t know what their financial situations or stress levels are, or how they deal with stress,” she said. “So, my feeling is if they’re not coming in because they are over stressed or they’re not focused because this is making them ill, I don’t want them at work.
“We’re responsible for hundreds of thousands of lives. We cannot have a plane go down because somebody is not fit for duty.”
Airport officials lauded TSA employees for keeping things running smoothly, especially during the rush of passengers brought on by CES last week, the largest trade show by value held annually in Las Vegas.
“That is just a testament to the character and commitment of our TSA partners,” said Christine Crews, McCarran spokesperson.
Workers turn to other jobs
Affected workers are turning to part-time jobs to try to offset any financial hardship they’ve encountered during the shutdown, Esquivel said. Some are even looking to leave the occupation all together.
“I have a feeling that some people are just going to quit,” she said. “I do know that people are searching for other jobs.”
The shutdown has brought an outpouring of generosity to TSA agents who are working without pay.
Financial institutions are offering no-interest loans in 30-day increments, food banks are offering assistance, vendors at McCarran are offering impacted workers special food deals, restaurants and grocery stores outside the airport and even former employees are stopping by to drop off pizzas, gift cards and other items, Esquivel said.
McCarran carriers Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United and ground service partner Worldwide Flight Services as well as the airport’s Wells Fargo branch all made food donations to TSA workers.
“Everyone was coming forward with support, because the easiest way to show appreciation is with food,” said Crews. “It’s one less thing these employees have to worry about. Southwest did Chick-fil-A, the Wells Fargo branch brought them all doughnuts one morning. They got a lot of pizza and sandwiches and stuff like that.”
The Department of Aviation also is working with its airport partners to create a pop-up pantry, where donated food and household items will be stored and distributed to TSA employees as needed.
More food donations
Smoked Burgers & BBQ, which opened its Forum Shops at Caesars location on Dec. 29, is donating 170 smoked barbecue chicken salads, with ingredients donated by US Foods, to TSA workers next week.
“We’ve been following the shutdown and we are first and foremost committed to the community,” said Ryan Klaasen, owner of Smoked Burgers & BBQ. “When we see people in need, we want to offer any assistance we can to be part of the help and the solution.”
Local food bank Three Square responded to a request by the TSA to provide food assistance to affected TSA workers, hosting a food drive Thursday, giving out over 400 bags filled with shelf-stable food, hygiene products and water.
“Hundreds of thousands of federal employees, including local TSA workers, missed their first paychecks during the government shutdown last Friday and many of them are finding themselves in unfamiliar circumstances,” said Brian Burton, president and CEO of Three Square, in a statement. “Hunger does not discriminate and oftentimes affects individuals when they least expect it. We want these employees to know that we are here to help.”
A row of cars lined up outside the TSA administrative office building located off Sunset and Gillespie roads multiple times Wednesday, as waves of agents arrived for their goods, mainly after their shifts at McCarran ended. Some grabbed bags just for themselves, while others picked up in bulk to deliver to TSA employees during their respective shifts. Another food pickup event is scheduled for Friday, TSA officials said.
Where to get help
Federal workers seeking assistance during the shutdown are urged to call Three Square food bank at 702-644-3663.