Democratic New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey was at Westchester County Airport Tuesday, criticizing the partial federal shutdown and bemoaning its impact on transportation security officers. Her call to end the shutdown comes as President Trump plans to address the nation Tuesday night about his push to build a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Congresswoman Lowey, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, says the second longest government shutdown in U.S. history threatens the paychecks of 51,000 TSA agents across the nation, including at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, where 65 TSA workers are on the job without pay.
“Eighteen days without pay. This is unacceptable and it’s heartless,” Lowey says. “No American should be forced to work without pay as bills for groceries, rent or mortgages and even the cost of gas to get to work, pile up.”
Vincent Castellano is District 2 National Vice President of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“There’s been a lot of talk that TSA employees are calling in sick. That’s not true. What’s happening is, no money, can’t buy gas,” says Castellano. “What are you going to, you’re going to, take your choice – putting some food on the table for your children and your family, or to buy gas. So everything, the air is safe at this point.”
He says the hope is that pay will be retroactive, but the longer the shutdown the more difficult for the federal workers impacted to pay their bills. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer.
“What this shutdown has done, it’s taken innocent hardworking people and made them pawns in a chess game. And that’s not fair to them; it’s not fair to the traveling public,” Latimer says. “If this shutdown continues over an extended period of time, I don’t know how TSA is going to be able to put enough people out there to do this work. And then the lines will start to back up. And we also don’t know what’s going to happen in our tower with the people that handle air traffic control.”
The House last week passed a package of bills Lowey introduced to end the shutdown and fund most agencies through September 30, and the Department of Homeland Security, including the TSA, through February. Lowey points out that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take up any bill to end the shutdown without the president’s support. President Trump wants border security funding tied to any funding bill to reopen the government. Again, Lowey.
“The bills that we were bringing and are bringing and will continue to bring before the Congress are bills that have passed the Senate almost unanimously, no disagreement. It’s just that the leader in the senate is saying, I have to listen to the president; if he doesn’t want me to bring up the bills, I’m not going to bring up the bills,” says Lowey. “Let’s make it very clear. The security of our nation and the economic security of the people who protect us demands it.”
Gabriel Pedreira is legislative and political organizer at District 2 American Federation of Government Employees.
“This is not a reality show. If people to go to work and they don’t get paid, it’s not a reality show. This is not ‘The Apprentice.’ It’s not ‘The Bachelor.’ It’s not ‘Survivor,’” Pedreira says. “Right now these people are trying to survive just to pay their rent. They’re trying to survive just to put food on the table. They’re trying to survive just to make car payments, because when you can’t put food on the table, that’s not funny. It’s not a television show.”
“This whole battle is supposedly over border security, but the real security comes from these professional men and women that check every person in before they get on an airplane,” says Latimer.
Castellano says this will be the first week that TSA employees will not see their paychecks.
“There are about 450,000 people that aren’t going to get paid this week, and we’re trying to set up some functions for them to try to help them out,” Castellano says. “Go to food banks, do what they need to do. Don’t be proud.”
Lowey’s call to end the shutdown comes nearly three weeks after Latimer visited the airport to show support for the TSA workers on the job without pay. He had arranged for the airport manager AvPORTS to provide lunch vouchers for the workers and was doing so again Tuesday.