On Friday, the 35th day of the partial government shutdown and the day that 800,000 federal workers missed their second paycheck of 2019, roughly 100 federal workers and their supporters rallied at Philadelphia International Airport to protest the shutdown.
“Brothers and sisters, welcome to the world of indentured servitude," said Matt Culbertson, a 16-year veteran of TSA, surrounded by local members of Congress including Rep. Brendan Boyle, Rep. Dwight Evans, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.
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TSA agents have worked without pay for the entirety of the shutdown.
Not long after the rally ended, reports emerged that Washington had possibly reached an agreement for a temporary re-opening of the government.
The rally, which began shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration reported flight delays at LaGuardia and Newark airports due to a shortage of air traffic controllers in facilities near Washington, D.C., and in Jacksonville, Fla., was the latest action organized by local unions to raise awareness during the shutdown of issues that workers fear can be easy to overlook by people not directly affected. Air-traffic controllers passed out leaflets to travelers in the bitter cold last week. Federal workers rallied at Independence Mall alongside politicians earlier this month.
Some have encouraged workers to go on strike -- a highly unusual move, said Sarah Lawrence College labor historian Patricia Murolo -- but union officials insisted there would be nothing of the sort, as it is against the law for federal employees to strike and striking could cost them their jobs.
“We are not gonna advocate for people to be fired in this terrible situation," said Phil Glover, national vice president at federal workers union AFGE.
Joe Shuker, president of Philly’s TSA union, pointed to Reagan’s 1981 firing of 11,000 air-traffic controllers who did not return to work after they were ordered to. The specter of that time looms large.
Meanwhile, offers have poured in from all corners of the region to aid federal workers: Temporary work, no-interest loans, free SEPTA rides for TSA agents, even food trucks for TSA agents bearing pizza and burgers sent by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Democratic congressmembers and some Republicans, like Fitzpatrick, have expressed their support for the workers.