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Airport security is a complex machine on the best of days. Thousands of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees show up at the nation’s airports to screen passengers each day. When those employees stop showing up for work, it can quickly affect the security experience.

Under normal circumstances, TSA staffs enough employees to cover any temporary shortages in staffing. Enter the government shutdown.

As we enter the second week of the government shutdown, most federal employees have been divided into two categories. Non-essential employees are on furlough, essentially unpaid leave from work (though the government is attempting to pass legislation to guarantee back pay). Essential employees, like TSA screeners, are required to work temporarily without pay. They’ll get their full paycheck, but not until the government approves a spending bill.

CNN is reporting that TSA screeners are starting to call out sick from work at much higher rates than normal. There are conflicting opinions about why that’s the case: some believe it’s in protest for not getting their paychecks.

It’s easy to think of TSA screeners as those people we love to hate at the airport. But if you think of them as your neighbor or that guy/gal down the block, it isn’t that hard to understand why some of these folks are calling out of work. Reports on Glassdoor, a popular website for employees to post reviews of their employer, lists plenty of TSA screening jobs with a salary of $16/hour, or around $37,000/year. With pay rates like that, some of these employees probably can’t afford to pay their bills if they’re not actually receiving consistent paychecks. If they can’t afford to pay for daycare for their children, then they may be calling in sick to work to stay home with their children.

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer stands alongside a temporary exhibit on the September 11, 2001 attacks, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, September 1, 2011. Running for for the 9 days leading up to the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the Museum will display more than 50 objects from the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in an exhibit titled, "September 11: Remembrance and Reflection." AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The Bottom Line

The current situation is sticky enough already, and likely will only get worse with time. Right now, the TSA says that the missing employees are not impacting wait times at airports or screening levels. It seems hard to believe that the current situation will improve as these employees continue to be required to continue working without getting paid. January may not be the busiest month for air travel, but there still are millions of passengers passing through US airports on domestic and international flights. They all must be screened by TSA employees who currently are being asked to work without pay until the government reopens. At some point, that has to affect the standard of screening being delivered at airports across the country.

Featured photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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