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Friday, September 22, 2023

Rep. Mark Pocan visited the Dane County Airport two days ago to speak with TSA agents affected by the shutdown, saying that he may begin to withhold his paychecks in solidarity. 

Shutdown Stories: TSA agents stagger into 34th day, Pocan shows solidarity

As the semester begins and the Federal government enters its 34rd day of a record-long partial shutdown, The Daily Cardinal is bringing you stories about what the shutdown looks like on campus and around the community. Certain government agencies have been closed since Dec. 22, and will only reopen once congress and President Trump can reach a compromise over a $5 billion border wall. 

For more than a month, the nation’s 50,000 Transportation Security Administration agents have worked without pay as the longest government shutdown in history drags on. Now, Rep. Mark Pocan says he’ll give up his own salary in solidarity with workers who have had theirs withheld.

“If the shutdown continues to Feb. 1, I too will have them withhold my pay," Pocan said following a visit to the Dane County Regional Airport Tuesday. “I’m doing it in solidarity with the employees, I am not doing it claiming I’m doing something because the conditions are completely different for us.”

The Department of Homeland Security closed Dec. 22, when the partial government shutdown began. Since then, TSA agents have been expected to continue working without pay, and as the shutdown runs on, conditions have worsened.

TSA workers, whom the U.S. depends on for national security, are likely seeing both their quality of life and quality of work go down, according to Jirs Meuris, an assistant professor in UW-Madison’s Management and Human Resources Department, who’s research found financial stress decreases work productivity. 

“It makes us less safe to have this go on. You’re having people who you rely on for safety and security sell their cars and take out extensive loans. Even when the shutdown’s over, this isn’t over for them,” Jirs said. 

Whether or not they were living paycheck to paycheck beforehand, the shutdown has introduced extraordinary financial demands on TSA workers while forcing them to work under unprecedented conditions. And, as Meuris mentioned, workers may have to make decisions such as taking out loans or selling belongings that will have lasting  effects on them well past the government’s re-opening.

Many employees reported they are not even able to report to work due to financial limitations, the TSA reported again on Wednesday.

On Sunday, more than 10 percent of TSA employees nationwide called in sick, compared to only three percent the same Sunday a year ago.

Efforts were introduced to aid TSA workers, such as pop-up food banks around the country, but there should also be policies in place that give employees financial aid, according to Meuris.  

“It is important to advocate for policy to help workers … not just getting back pay but actually giving them interest,” Meuris said. “The shutdown is creating problems we’ll be carrying for a very long time.” 

The shutdown has affected students, faculty and community members who are employed by the federal government. For those groups — or anyone experiencing financial insecurity — there are resources available on campus like The Open Seat, University Health Services mental health services and free lunch.

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