TSA to close some se­cu­rity lanes at air­ports as shut­down drags on

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Alan Levin

The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to be­gin clos­ing a hand­ful of se­cu­rity check­points at air­ports around the coun­try as soon as this week­end in re­sponse to staff short­ages trig­gered by a par­tial fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Mi­ami In­ter­na­tional Air­port ex­pects to shut one of its con­courses for sev­eral days start­ing Satur­day af­ter­noon and will move flights to other gates, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by the air­port.

Sep­a­rately, a union rep­re­sent­ing more than 10,000 air-traf­fic con­trollers filed a law­suit Fri­day in fed­eral court in Wash­ing­ton, charg­ing that it’s il­le­gal to force them and other avi­a­tion em­ploy­ees to work with­out com­pen­sa­tion.

More than 51,000 TSA em­ploy­ees have also been on the job with­out pay since Dec. 22 and missed their first pay­check Fri­day. On Thurs­day, the agency saw a 55 per­cent in­crease in em­ploy­ees call­ing in sick, from 3.3 per­cent a year ago to 5.1 per­cent, spokesman Michael Bilello said in an email.

Bilello said on Twit­ter that the TSA is work­ing with “stake­hold­ers and in­dus­try part­ners to ex­plore ef­forts to con­sol­i­date of­fi­cers and oper­a­tions.”

Con­course G at the Mi­ami air­port will be closed Satur­day af­ter­noon through Mon­day and trav­el­ers will be di­rected to other check­points.

United Con­ti­nen­tal Hold­ings op­er­ates some flights at that con­course.

“We will work to en­sure we do ev­ery­thing we can for our cus­tomers and we do not ex­pect any op­er­a­tional im­pact,” said Frank Be­ne­nati, a United spokesman.

TSA hasn’t heard of any other air­port plan­ning to shut a con­course like the one in Mi­ami, Bilello said. It’s rou­tine for TSA to open and close screen­ing lanes as vol­ume at air­ports rises and falls.

Air­port se­cu­rity of­fi­cers, along with air traf­fic con­trollers and em­ploy­ees at more than a dozen U.S. agen­cies and de­part­ments, have been caught in a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and con­gres­sional Democrats over whether to fund a bor­der wall with Mex­ico.

The se­cu­rity screen­ers and con­trollers are among work­ers de­clared es­sen­tial to se­cu­rity and safety and have been or­dered to work with­out pay.

The law­suit filed by the Na­tional Air Traf­fic Con­trollers As­so­ci­a­tion union charges that Trump, the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion and other U.S. of­fi­cials are vi­o­lat­ing work­ers’ con­sti­tu­tional rights by “de­priv­ing them of their hard-earned com­pen­sa­tion with­out the req­ui­site due process.”

In some cases, the lack of pay is hav­ing a “dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect” on em­ploy­ees, the suit said.

The FAA de­clined to com­ment Fri­day on the con­trollers’ law­suit.

In sim­i­lar shut­downs Congress and the White House have al­ways agreed to pay back wages to gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees, though some con­trac­tors haven’t been paid in ar­rears. The House on Fri­day passed leg­is­la­tion that would give fed­eral work­ers back pay. The Se­nate al­ready passed the mea­sure, which now goes to Trump for his sig­na­ture. Trump said he would sign it.

Un­like the con­trollers, TSA of­fi­cers and other work­ers deemed es­sen­tial, most fed­eral em­ploy­ees are fur­loughed and haven’t been work­ing.

The TSA has vowed to take steps to en­sure that screen­ing of peo­ple and bags at air­ports isn’t com­pro­mised by the shut­down.TSA of­fi­cers screened 1.96 mil­lion pas­sen­gers Thurs­day.

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