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Des Moines TSA Officer Discusses Effects of Government Shutdown

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers are among the 420,000 federal workers across the country who are expected to work without pay during the second longest shutdown in government history. This includes TSA officers at the Des Moines International Airport.

It is now day 18 of this government shutdown. This means every single one of the TSA officers in blue working the security checkpoint at the Des Moines International Airport are on their 18th day of working and not getting paid.

Robert Milhollin is a TSA officer in Des Moines and is currently working without pay.

“You could say it’s frustrating but it’s something we all understood when we signed on with the agency,” Milhollin, a member of a federal employee union, local 803 said.

Milhollin recently relocated from Texas to Iowa. He was hoping to move into a permanent home soon, that is, until the government shutdown.

“I’ve been working on buying a house and I’m set to close this week, so this has put a kink into my own plans,” Milhollin said. He is worried his lender will see his income coming to a crashing halt.

“We don’t know when this is going to end. We don’t know when the income stream will pick up again,” Milhollin said.

Luckily, Milhollin says he is financially prepared for something like this, but that is not the case for others.

“I’ve spoke with one in particular this morning who indicated, a single provider household, three mouths to feed, and it’s pretty much paycheck to paycheck,” Milhollin said. “If these things aren’t ironed out by Friday, that next Monday, it is going to be difficult.”

He can’t speak to the “blue flu,” here in Des Moines, if any of his coworkers are calling in sick because they are not being paid. According to a spokesperson for TSA, they experienced a rate of 4.6 percent unscheduled absences nationally on Monday, January 7, compared to 3.8 percent one year ago.

TSA was not able to provide numbers for Des Moines specifically, but Des Moines International Airport Executive Director Kevin Foley says as of Tuesday, they haven’t seen any slowdowns of their screening of passengers and luggage.

“Speaking from the officers that I know and I work with, we love our job. We take it seriously. We are not in a hurry to leave the public unattended,” Milhollin said.

Gregg James, the District 8 vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees, says that first missed paycheck, come Friday, could leave employees with no other choice.

“We want our employees to meet their obligation to report to work, but at some point there is going to be a breaking point. Somewhere there are folks who are going to make a determination that they are better off to seek employment elsewhere,” James said.

Milhollin says TSA officers are not only not getting paid, but they are also not allowed to take any time off. So if one of these workers has a vacation or trip planned, they cannot go during the government shutdown. If they do, then they cannot return to work and will be placed on furlough until the government reopens.

TSA says they screened over 2 million passengers on Monday and 99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes; 92.9 percent of passengers less than 15 minutes.

TSA’s spokesperson Thomas Kelly also said in a statement, “We understand that the current lapse in funding may be causing added stress for our workforce and want to continue to express that we are grateful to the more than 51,000 officers across the country who remain focused on the mission and are respectful to the traveling public as they continue the important work necessary to secure the nation’s transportation systems.”

Kelly added that TSA officers, canine handlers and their canines, explosive experts, inspectors —all frontline security personnel—will be working. They will not be getting paid during the shutdown, but historically, they have been paid once furlough ends.

But waiting that long to be paid is easier said than done for some.

“What people have to do is an individual decision. For instance, parents with children who have daycare, the daycare providers most likely are not going to extend credit,” Milhollin said. “If it’s a matter of ‘do I go to work? Do I leave my kids at home unattended?’ That’s something that each individual has to make that decision.”

Milhollin says AFGE is urging members to reach out to their members of congress and members of the senate to try and get this shutdown resolved. The union is also holding a rally today in Washington, D.C. in hopes to at least restore funding to government agencies.

“If it’s just a short-term continuing resolution, I guess that’s what they will have to do,” Milhollin said. “At this point, we are just interested in getting paid for the work that we are doing.”