Gov­ern­ment shut­down af­fect­ing air­ports, CTA

Flow of fed­eral money to city’s tran­sit agency cut

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAND - By Mary Wis­niewski mwis­[email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @mary­wiz­chicago

con­tin­u­ing gov­ern­ment shut­down, now the long­est in U.S. his­tory, is start­ing to af­fect air­port op­er­a­tions and has cut the flow of fed­eral money to tran­sit agen­cies, in­clud­ing the CTA.

The shut­down af­fects 800,000 fed­eral work­ers, in­clud­ing Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion agents at the na­tion’s air­ports and Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion air traf­fic con­trollers and in­spec­tors. Some work­ers are on fur­lough, while oth­ers are re­quired to work even though they had to miss their first pay­check Fri­day.

Among the agen­cies af­fected by the shut­down is the CTA, which uses fed­eral fund­ing to pay for con­struc­tion projects like sta­tion ren­o­va­tions.

The shut­down is al­ready af­fect­ing some air­port op­er­a­tions, though no prob­lems have been re­ported yet in Chicago. The TSA has seen an in­crease in work­ers call­ing in sick, and Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port plans to cut off ac­cess to one of its ter­mi­nals over the week­end in or­der to send TSA work­ers to busier check­points.

Chicago’s Avi­a­tion Depart­ment is talk­ing with the TSA and is ready with con­tin­gency plans if they are needed, spokes­woman Lauren Huff­man said.

Larry Willis, pres­i­dent of the Trans­porta­tion Trades Depart­ment of the AFLCIO, which rep­re­sents 32 unions that cover trans­porta­tion work­ers, said he thinks the na­tion’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem is cur­rently safe and would not rec­om­mend that peo­ple avoid fly­ing. But he said safety is an “on­go­ing mis­sion,” and ev­ery day the shut­down drags on is a cause for con­cern.

“We de­mand the high­est safety and se­cu­rity stan­dards for our trans­porta­tion net­work, and right­fully so,” Willis said. With the shut­down reach­ing its 21st day Fri­day, “we think those stan­dards are un­der duress,” Willis said.

Willis noted the na­tion’s air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem, for ex­am­ple, is al­ready un­der­staffed and said work­ers not get­ting paid is caus­ing “in­cred­i­ble stress.” He said that other fed­eral work­ers who in­spect air­lines and main­te­nance fa­cil­i­ties and cer­tify air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing are fur­loughed.

“Over time, that’s go­ing to have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on our abil­ity to main­tain the high stan­dards the Amer­i­can peo­ple re­quire,” Willis said.

Willis said that the shut­down also is af­fect­ing tran­sit and com­muter rail, with grants be­ing sus­pended to tran­sit agen­cies. Ninety per­cent of the work­force at the Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion is on fur­lough.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said day-to-day op­er­a­tions at the agency are not af­fected, but it is not get­ting fed­eral grant fund­ing to pay for on­go­ing ex­penses for con­struc­tion projects.

“If we don’t see a res­o­lu­tion shortly, CTA will need to look at how we uti­lize our lim­ited re­sources,” Steele said.

Steele said the de­lay is not sus­tain­able, and the agency hopes to see a res­o­lu­tion soon.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wants $5.7 bil­lion to build a wall on the bor­der with Mex­ico, and he has threat­ened to keep the gov­ern­ment shut down un­til he gets it. Democrats say that the wall would be a poor use of fed­eral money, and talks to re­open the gov­ern­ment this week have failed.

TSA work­ers are con­sid­ered es­sen­tial fed­eral emThe ploy­ees and had to go to work Fri­day, though they were not paid. The per­cent­age of TSA work­ers who called in sick on Thurs­day was 5.1 per­cent, com­pared to a 3.3 per­cent un­sched­uled ab­sence rate on the same day last year, TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said in a Tweet.

Bilello said the TSA is work­ing with stake­hold­ers and in­dus­try part­ners to look at ef­forts to con­sol­i­date of­fi­cers and op­er­a­tions. TSA agents are on the lower end of the fed­eral pay scale, earn­ing be­tween $36,000 and $43,000 an­nu­ally.

Lines at the na­tion’s air­ports have been nor­mal, Bilello said. On Thurs­day, 99.9 per­cent of pas­sen­gers waited less than 30 min­utes, Bilello said. Se­cu­rity wait times at O’Hare In­ter­na­tional and Mid­way air­ports are at 15 min­utes or less, the city’s Avi­a­tion Depart­ment said.

“We are hum­bled by the acts of kind­ness and sup­port from in­dus­try and the pub­lic, who clearly rec­og­nize and ad­mire our of­fi­cers’ ef­forts,” Bilello tweeted. “TSA will con­tinue to con­duct the crit­i­cal work nec­es­sary to se­cure the na­tion’s trans­porta­tion sys­tems.”

FAA spokesman Gre­gory Martin as­sured the trav­el­ing pub­lic that the na­tion’s airspace sys­tem is safe, though air traf­fic con­trollers and tech­ni­cians are work­ing with­out pay.

“We are al­lo­cat­ing FAA re­sources based on risk as­sess­ment to meet all safety crit­i­cal func­tions,” Martin said.

Ear­lier this month, the Air Line Pilots As­so­ci­a­tion In­ter­na­tional, which rep­re­sents 61,000 pilots, sent a let­ter to Trump urg­ing him to end the shut­down and warn­ing that it is threat­en­ing the safe op­er­a­tions of the airspace sys­tem.

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