SeaTac, Wash. - People in the aviation industry are worried that the partial government shutdown is compromising aircraft inspection standards.
Because of the shutdown, some inspection work is being skipped entirely.
Some 3,800 FAA inspectors nationwide -- including ones who inspect planes at SeaTac - are off the job.
Those employees are represented by the union Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) AFL-CIO.
“Quite frankly I've heard some people that are already at the breaking point of their patience and uncertainty and they have to go looking for other work,” said Monika Warner, president of the Chapter WA3 president of PASS.
The union includes many FAA employees who support air traffic operations, like people who install the lights that guide jets in, maintain radar, as well as the aviation safety inspectors.
“The aviation safety inspectors have been furloughed,” Warner said.
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She says they inspect pilots, crews, manufacturing, and mechanical aspects of the aircraft, but currently aren't working.
“As a user, I'm really happy that I have not personally been flying for the last 17, 18 days because every day that goes by, the equipment, the aircraft, the pilots, the crews - are inspected less,” Warner said.
She says although airlines do their own inspections, the FAA inspectors provide oversight and more comprehensive inspections.
“It’s very concerning,” Warner said. “Those inspectors are there for a reason,” she said.
Not getting paid
Those employees, TSA agents, air traffic controllers – are just a small portion of the 800,000 federal employees who are not getting paid while the government is shut down.
“The morale is low. The morale, it’s expected,” said Cairo D'Almeida, a TSA agent and president of Local 1121 of the American Federation of Government Employees.
And government shutdown is bringing new frustrations for these TSA agents.
“Managers are calling them up, come to work, you have to come to work, you can't take a vacation it's been canceled nationwide,” D’Almeida said.
He said canceling pre-approved time off violates the TSA contract – a TSA spokesperson said over the phone Tuesday that it is standard procedure.
“That is a requirement, that when appropriations lapse -- like they have for us -- then all leave is canceled,” said Jim Gregory, a national TSA spokesperson.
D’Almeida said sick calls at Sea-Tac airport are actually below average, despite the uptick nationally.
“This is abuse of power,” D’Almeida said.
He said he’s doing what he can to prevent agents from quitting after they miss their first paycheck by helping them access expedited unemployment benefits and welfare, but says some agents still may quit if they don’t get paid Friday.
Warner said some members of her union are considering the same.
“They’re collecting all the nuggets they possibly can out of their bank accounts and seeing how far they can go before they have to go get another job,” she said.
She said she personally is also impacted by the shutdown. She’s a furloughed employee, meaning she can’t work, and won’t get paid for the time of the shutdown unless Congress approves a bill for back pay.
“I’m a single mom with two children still in school, in middle school and high school, I have a house payment – I’m not sure where the next one is coming from. I have a roof that’s leaking and a tarp on my skylight, and right now I’m not willing to plan for repairs. And it’s just a lot of uncertainty” Warner said.
Port of Seattle Response
TSA’s spokesperson, Gregory, said unexpected call outs from TSA agents are up slightly – 4.8 percent compared to 3.6 percent at this time last year. He said TSA is monitoring the situation.
But both D’Almeida and the Port of Seattle said passengers at Sea-Tac should not feel the impact of the shutdown in terms of long security lines because there is no uptick in unscheduled callouts from agents.
The airport said any long lines passengers might notice are from high volumes.
The Port of Seattle sent out this statement Tuesday afternoon in response to the partial government shutdown:
SEATTLE - "Safety and security are the top priorities at the Port of Seattle. The Port relies heavily on federal partners—including Transportation Security Administration officers for security screening, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers for customs processing and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers—to make American travel and trade as safe as it is today.
“Workers who are deemed essential to our nation’s safety and productivity deserve their full paychecks this Friday. They did not waver in their commitment to the public good. We need to pay them,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Stephanie Bowman. 'This partial federal shutdown is not making our borders or our facilities safer or more secure. The Trump administration needs to end this shutdown now.'
"Despite the partial federal government shutdown, screening wait times for passengers and aviation and maritime cargo remain average for this time of year. The Port has not experienced significant delays in arrivals or departures beyond what you would expect during winter operations.
"The Port of Seattle is working closely with federal partners and airport contractors to keep operations as close to normal as possible. The fact that travelers continue to experience mostly normal operations proves the professionalism and dedication of our federal partners.
"The Port is taking action as well. The Port will provide supplemental staff when needed to assist with non-regulatory airport screening procedures to ensure that federal employees can focus on their required tasks.
"Today approximately 2,000 federal aviation and security professionals are working at Port facilities without the guarantee of a paycheck due to the partial government shutdown. Without pay, these federal government employees and their families will soon be unable to afford basic necessities such as housing, food and education.
"The Port is determining what actions it may legally take to support these federal aviation and security professionals, including looking into partnerships with local nonprofit financial institutions who can offer zero interest loans to federal employees working at the Port who are not being paid because of the partial government shutdown. While state and federal laws limit what we can do, we will find a way to be there for the federal workers who are upholding their promise to serve the public."
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