TSA Worker: 'They're Forcing A Choice Between Aviation Security And Border Security'

Jan 12, 2019
Originally published on January 12, 2019 5:57 pm

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We're going to turn back now to the partial government shutdown. And, as we mentioned, it's now the longest in U.S. history. For many federal workers, that means payday has come and gone with no check. Many of those workers belong to the American Federation of Government Employees, and a lot of them have been showing up to work for weeks now without pay. Mike Gayzagian is acting president of AFGE Local 2617. It covers hundreds of TSA workers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. He's also a TSA agent at Logan International Airport in Boston, and he speaks to us now from Boston.

Welcome.

MIKE GAYZAGIAN: Thanks for having me.

MCCAMMON: So up until now, federal workers have held out hope that the shutdown might end before they miss a paycheck. That did not happen. How are your members reacting?

GAYZAGIAN: Well, that hope has been dashed, and our members are very disappointed. Up in Boston now, I think the temperature outside is around 17 degrees, so we're all burning up gas and oil, and we don't have our paychecks to pay for it. It's a really unfortunate situation.

MCCAMMON: What's the mood been like lately among TSA workers at Logan knowing that this might be coming?

GAYZAGIAN: Anxiety and frustration, mostly, a lot of the workers continuing to come to work. But, you know, people are very frustrated and very anxious and really, really disappointed in the way this whole thing has played out.

MCCAMMON: Who do they blame?

GAYZAGIAN: Both sides, really. I think that the Congress could probably get sufficient majorities to get together and make a deal and open this up, but they've decided they want to use us as political pawns. And now we've essentially become collateral damage in their battle. But I do want to say that we have gotten enormous support from the public.

MCCAMMON: And if this shutdown does continue, what's your strategy for helping your members deal with those bills?

GAYZAGIAN: That's in the works. We're hoping this gets resolved before we have to get into that. But, you know, we are going to have to sit down, particularly with my executive board, and see what we can do.

MCCAMMON: I mean, do you have thoughts on how you might advise them - you know, what kind of resources you might be able to pull together?

GAYZAGIAN: Really, I mean, particularly people with part-time jobs, I'm sure they're going to have to make a decision as to, you know, which job they're going to stay with. They're going to stay with the one that's paying them, or are they going to go to the one that's not? You know, the people who have been with the agency longer - they may be able to ride it out a little longer. But we're in uncharted territory at this point. And, really, we're kind of making it up as we go.

MCCAMMON: We've heard some reports about TSA workers calling in sick instead of working during the shutdown. What are you telling members who might be thinking about doing that?

GAYZAGIAN: Don't do that. You're obligated to come in. This will end at some point. You know, what goes on at other airports I can't speak to, but I know that at our airports, that really isn't happening.

MCCAMMON: And, finally, is there anything that you'd like to say to lawmakers, to the president who cannot seem to figure out a way to end this shutdown?

GAYZAGIAN: They're forcing a choice between aviation security and border security. I think it's 8 million people a day fly, and these 8 million people we are keeping safe. And by putting this kind of pressure on the front line of aviation security - god forbid, if something were to happen, who's going to take the blame for that? I mean, I can tell you that those who have presidential fantasies, if something were to happen, they can all stay home. The same thing with the professional politicians. They can't figure out a way to make a deal, and something were to happen, they're all going to be tossed out.

MCCAMMON: That's Mike Gayzagian. He's a TSA agent and acting president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2617 from Boston.

Thanks so much.

GAYZAGIAN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAMU THE FUDGEMUNK'S "LEO PART 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.