If the government shutdown continues, some Transportation Security Administration officers are going to be put in an impossible position, says veteran officer and union leader Joe Shuker: Do I feed my children or pay for gas to come in to work?
Many of the newer TSA officers are in their 20s, he said. They start at $15 an hour. Some are single parents; some live in New Jersey or Northeast Philly and don’t take SEPTA to the airport. And many live paycheck to paycheck.
“They’re getting by, but not where they can miss a check,” said Shuker, whose union represents about 800 TSA officers.
Federal worker union AFGE, of which Shuker is a part, announced Monday that it was suing the government for requiring employees to work without pay.
The partial government shutdown, which on Jan. 1 will be in its 11th day, has shown that federal workers are not exempt from the economic strain that many American workers feel, despite reports that the economy is flourishing. The shutdown follows a standoff between President Donald Trump, who is demanding $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and congressional Democrats, who want to block any wall funding.
It was after U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R, Pa.) asked whether there were really any federal workers who wouldn’t survive a delay in pay in a Politico interview that many federal workers took to social media to raise their hands, using the hashtag #ShutdownStories.
In the Philly area, where more than 32,000 federal government employees work -- making it one of the regions with the highest concentration of federal workers in the country -- it’s no different.
“You’re just playing catch-up for the rest of the year,” IRS employee Taji Chanel, a father of three who lives in West Oak Lane, told WHYY. “You’re going to be in debt for a while.”
Some workers in Philadelphia, like those who work for the Veterans Administration in East Falls, aren’t affected by the shutdown because their agencies are fully funded. Others, such as TSA officers and those who work for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, had to report to work without pay. Workers will likely get paid for the time they worked, but it’s still a burden, Shuker said: Because of a gap in pay, workers could get hit with late fees for their credit card payments or their rent. Although the government published templates for workers to send to creditors explaining their circumstances, many won’t grant exceptions, Shuker said.
Other federal employees, such as those with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Internal Revenue Service, have been on furlough. And the Philly-based employees of the Environmental Protection Agency started on furlough Monday, as the agency’s funding just ran out.
Rose Greaux, a HUD employee and vice president of her union, said it’s hard to budget because she’s not sure when she will start working again. But what’s more concerning to her is that most of HUD’s operations have stopped. The department helps the homeless find housing, runs the Section 8 low-income housing program, and helps people secure FHA mortgages.
“We’d just like to get back to work,” she said. “We’d like to take care of the people.”
Meanwhile, the security guards and tour guides who work for the National Park Service on Independence National Historical Park were working last weekend, thanks to a $32,000 donation from Visit Philly, the city’s tourism organization. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the second busiest week of the year for the park.
“We expect this will pay for itself for Philadelphia, thanks to visitor spending from the visitors now able to visit the hall and the bell this weekend,” Visit Philly spokesperson Cara Schneider told Billy Penn.