Sun-Sentinel: South Florida air traffic controllers, TSA screeners, pilots raise shutdown concerns
By Anthony Man
Air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration officers in South Florida said Monday they’re experiencing more-than-usual stress now that they’re not getting paid, but the traveling public is safe — for now.
Bill Kisseadoo, of Fort Lauderdale, is an air traffic controller at the busy Miami International Airport.
“I’m getting concerned about safety. I’m getting there,” he said.
Kisseadoo and other controllers aren’t getting paid because of the partial government shutdown, but they’re considered essential employees so they’re reporting to work.
Already air traffic controllers have extraordinarily stressful jobs. They usually check those stresses at the door, Kisseadoo said. But that’s becoming harder to do for people who aren’t getting paid.
“When controllers don’t get paid for the work they do, it becomes a large distraction in the workplace,” he said. “When you are not getting a paycheck, the stress is magnified that much more and it becomes quite a distraction.”
Kisseadoo has been an air traffic controller with the Federal Aviation Administration for six years, and before that in the Navy. A leader in the controllers’ union, he appeared Monday at roundtable organized by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Wasserman Schultz said she is growing more concerned about the safety of air travel.
“We are jeopardizing peoples’ lives,” Wasserman Schultz said during the roundtable. Later, speaking to reporters, she said: “I’m comfortable that air travel is basically safe. I’m concerned, as are air traffic controllers and our TSA personnel have told us, that there are stressors that this shutdown has immediately put on our public safety and whose safety is exacerbated and jeopardized as time goes on.”
The event was designed to highlight the negative effects of the partial government shutdown — and ratchet up pressure on President Donald Trump and Republicans to reopen the government. The president hasn’t been willing to do that as he pushes Democrats to fund the wall he wants built on the U.S. border with Mexico.
A terminal at Miami International was closed parts of Saturday and Sunday because of a higher-than-normal number of agents calling in sick. TSA wasn’t sure it would have enough staff for all checkpoints.
So far, that hasn’t happened at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, said Paul Scaglione, a TSA officer who is active in his union.
Robert Guevara, an air safety specialist, said because he and others are furloughed there isn’t anyone to review pilot and flight attendant licenses and new equipment that airlines want to put into service. “Someone in the FAA made the decision that we’re not essential employees,” he said.
Wasserman Schultz said she called the workers together on Monday, along with Internal Revenue Service employees and Mary Riedel, president and CEO of Women in Distress of Broward County, “to put a human face on the crisis that the president has manufactured by shutting the government down [by] insisting on a completely unnecessary, ineffective boondoggle that is his border wall.” Monday was the 24th day of the partial government shutdown.
Kisseadoo’s first payless payday was last week. He said he recently sold his house and is renting while renovating his new home. For the time being, he said he’d use some house-sale proceeds and slow the renovation work.
After 16 years on the job, Scaglione, who lives in Davie, he gets paid about $40,000 a year. His take-home pay — which he didn’t get last week — is usually $900 to $1,000.
Scaglione said “most of us are OK,” but some TSA agents are having trouble paying their bills. He said he’s fortunate. Without a paycheck, he said, “My family helped me and my friends help me.”
Riedel said the state’s 42 domestic violence shelters rely on federal payments for their services. Her organization had to tap reserves to make a $200,000 January payroll. After a month of no payments, she said five of the state’s shelters may have to close their doors. After two months, she said 18 centers might have to close.
Wasserman Schultz said there are hard-to-see effects of the shutdown. When the Miami airport closed a terminal over the weekend, that meant food workers in that concourse didn’t work so they didn’t get paid.
The Democrat was unsparing in her criticism of President Donald Trump and of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Wasserman Schultz said the belief in the wall as the way to ensure border security “is a simpleton’s belief and perception. And it is frightening that the president of the United States is as much of a simpleton as this president is.”
She called McConnell “Trump’s lackey,” and said he “needs to grow a spine” and stand up to Trump.
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