With the holiday season finally coming to a close, it couldn’t be worse timing for one of the world’s largest governments to shut down. Albeit only a “partial shutdown”, the 2019 government shutdown has sent shockwaves through the country – affecting families and individuals where it always seems to hurt the most, their pockets! According to CNN reports, since the shutdown began on December 22nd of this past year, approximately 420,000 federal employees across the country have been forced to work without a paycheck and no news of when it will end. For Frank Camuso and his family, it may not have hurt them directly, as being business owners, neither Frank Camuso nor his wife are federal employees – but he has seen the devastation it has caused in only a matter of weeks.
A close family friend and neighbor has been a TSA (Transportation Security Administration) officer for the past few years, and despite years of seniority, a few promotions, and numerous on-the-job awards and recognition, he has been working for the past 2 weeks, without a dime of pay. And while living in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Staten Island definitely hasn’t been cheap, due to their recent purchase of a home and new car, coupled with recent financial issues and expenses around the holiday season – the TSA agent and his wife have all but depleted the last few thousand from their savings. Being an entrepreneur and consummate businessman, Frank Camuso looks at the world through the lens of one of his own restaurants. “If I don’t pay my staff, pay them fairly, and pay them on-time…how can I ask them to come to work for me and work hard. Then to not even tell them if and when the end of the shutdown is coming, no information about back-pay, nothing! It’s crazy. I don’t understand how this country is being run.” Frank Camuso was quoted as saying.
This brings to light the biggest issues surrounding the government shutdown, the fact that legislators have been extremely tight-lipped about the situation, providing few, if any, updates to employees or those in management & supervisory roles. The few details that have been provided are bleak, to say the least. For TSA agents around the country, working some of the most important jobs protecting our nation’s airports and skies, they are given few options. While most are expected to come to work, and not get paid, some have the opportunity to take leave, and still not get paid. And those with accrued PTO or paid time off, are barred from taking it during this government shutdown. The main issue with this rule, as Frank Camuso pointed out, is that nothing has been mentioned about back-pay, and the growing sentiment seems to be that there might not be any. And with so much to fear already, most agents are worried to accept the leave, in fear of being let go, when the shutdown does come to an end.
While they are often considered a nuisance, especially for frequent travelers, the job of a TSA agent is vital to the safety of our nation. And the job itself isn’t very easy. There are only 55,000 agents, in charge of screening over 800 million passengers per year, with an average work shift running anywhere from 5-10 hours. They rotate every 20 to 30 minutes performing different tasks around the airport for not the best pay, according to CNN reporting. And with 78% of all families in the country living paycheck to paycheck, a few weeks has already taken a terrible toll on people around the nation. One of the saddest things about how the government shutdown has affected TSA agents and their families is the sample letter the government has provided to many of their employees. Rather than understanding the pleas of these hard workers, who literally hold the country together on their backs, politicians have provided agents with an official letter for them to provide their creditors, landlords, and mortgage companies – detailing the hardships and lack of pay as they are government workers. But the truth of the matter is, no piece of paper is going to keep someone from taking your home, provide you with groceries, or much else for that matter – not even if it came from President Trump’s letterhead himself.