On Friday, the 35th day of the partial government shutdown and the day that 800,000 federal workers will miss their second paycheck of 2019, Philadelphia union members and labor advocates plan to rally at Philadelphia International Airport in support of Transportation Security Administration workers.
The rally, at which TSA and other airport workers who are not federal employees will be joined by politicians, will begin at 11 a.m. at the bus stop area of Terminal B.
It’s 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.
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.
The TSA agents, who have been forced to work without pay for the entire shutdown, are the most visible and vulnerable of federal workers, said Richard Gennetti, a national representative for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
Gennetti, who oversees a dozen AFGE locals in the Philadelphia area, said TSA agents are the lowest-paid federal workers because they’re not on the “general schedule,” or GS, pay scale, as other federal employees are.
Joe Shuker, who runs the Philadelphia TSA union of about 800 officers, says his members are coming to him every day with a new set of issues.
One was offered a shift as a substitute teacher and wanted to know if she would be allowed off work so she could make some money. Another was worried about her car insurance payment — she wasn’t going to be able to afford it and feared the insurance provider would cancel immediately.
TSA agents have been especially visible during the shutdown, as some have not come to work, leading to seemingly interminable lines at Atlanta’s busy Hartsfield-Jackson airport. Miami International Airport closed one terminal early for three days one weekend in January. Philadelphia International Airport has not been affected the same way, said airport spokesperson Diane Gerace.
That visibility has led some to suggest that TSA agents have the power to end the shutdown. If they went on a wildcat strike, their absence would have a large impact on travelers and the general public.
TSA agents, however, are barred by law from striking. And, Shuker said, a job action would jeopardize their employment.
“I get it, that would end it," Shuker said. “But we wouldn’t be working.”
Shuker pointed out that President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers in 1981 and replaced them with military personnel. The specter of that time looms large.
“We don’t support a strike,” Gennetti said. “Nobody is encouraging anyone to break the law.”