Schrader in the News
Airport workers ‘held hostage’ in government shutdown as Oregon politicians call for action
More than 700 air traffic controllers and security officers continue to show up to work at airports across Oregon with no assurance of their next paycheck as the federal government shutdown hit the 18-day mark on Tuesday.
Some workers, however, are growing increasingly worried.
Transportation Security Administration staffers at Portland International Airport are circulating among colleagues information about how to file for unemployment. Union officials are directing the 380 TSA workers at the airport to local food pantries or grief counseling services as needed.
But if the federal government can’t pass a funding bill this week, the questions and concerns will only compound.
The timing, union leaders said Tuesday, couldn’t be worse, as some workers expect to miss their first paycheck as soon as Friday if politicians don’t act.
“People joke around about walking out,” said Joe Lowry, political coordinator for the TSA’s union in Portland, “but we can’t do that.” The TSA employees are classified as “essential” personnel and are blocked from striking and must show up to work despite the shutdown.
The Port of Portland, which owns and operates the airport, said the facility continues to work smoothly. According to media reports, some other airports have seen delays as workers call in sick.
Greg Biel, president of the American Federation of Government Employee’s TSA branch in Portland, said nerves are tightening.
“The fear is as this continues,” Biel said at a news conference in Portland, “they may have to go seek other employment.” He said that is also the situation for 20 managers at PDX who aren’t part of the union and are at home on unpaid leave.
U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader, both Democrats, met with airport workers before speaking to reporters Tuesday. They hoped to draw attention to the plight of hundreds of airport workers in Oregon, who are just a fraction of the 10,000 federal employees who work in forestry, agriculture and other sectors across Oregon, Schrader said.
The news conference comes as President Trump is scheduled to address the nation Tuesday night from the Oval Office for the first time. He is expected to argue that his more than $5 billion border wall is critical to the nation’s security.
Trump said before the Dec. 22 shutdown that he was happy to take the blame for the federal government over the wall debate. Since then, Trump has blamed Democrats for the shutdown and hinted he may consider declaring a national emergency and exerting special executive powers to pay for the wall.
Bonamici, who sits on a congressional labor committee, described the shutdown as “unnecessary” and said it is dangerous to put at risk federal employees who help planes take off and land safely and help passengers move through terminals across the country.
“This whole shutdown is completely unacceptable,” she said, “but it’s in the name of safety at the southern border, losing sight of what our air traffic controllers and TSA do.”
Schrader called on the Trump administration and Senate Republicans to approve the spending bills approved by the now Democratically controlled House of Representatives. The bills separate the wall from the debate and ensure federal agencies will be funded.
“There’s no reason these budgets should be held hostage,” he said. “These poor men and women doing our work for us, making the skies safe, aren’t getting paid. The idea you just pay them later? That doesn’t work guy.
“If you’re an average American you need your paycheck now; you can’t wait a month or two or three and get paid and expect to get by.”
TSA workers aren’t alone.
Eddie DeLisle, the Pacific Northwest regional vice president of the air traffic controllers union, said his workforce totals about 125 in Oregon. The majority, 80, help passenger planes and cargo shipments take off and land safely at PDX.
DeLisle said the job is “inherently stressful,” and now employees have the added burden of wondering if a paycheck will land in coming days.
Members keep asking when the shutdown will end and what happens if they aren’t paid.
“It’s unfortunate to have no answers to either question,” he said.
DeLisle said his workers’ situations aren’t quite as grim TSA workers, whose representatives told stories of selling plasma to make ends meet. But DeLisle said there’s massive uncertainty.
“I don’t know too many people who live better than paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
Past government shutdowns haven’t gotten to this nerve-wracking point, DeLisle said. He said that it was “just by sheer luck” that the shutdown has happened to stretch between pay periods. He said this isn’t about the border wall at this point.
“People just want to end the government shutdown,” he said.
Trang Kim and Rex Miekle, two TSA officers who have been with the agency in Portland since it began in 2002, watched the news conference from the side and said they haven’t experienced anything quite like this.
To come on the heels of the holidays, when workers bought gifts for family and friends, compounds the worry. TSA workers also lost out on an expected 1.9 percent pay increase last month, Kim said.
She keeps checking on workers to keep morale up.
Miekle showed up at the airport on his day off to show support for his colleagues.
“If the ship sinks,” he said, “we’re all going down together.”
Tags: Oregon First