By LZ Granderson
The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, has been hit with a case of the “blue flu,” as hundreds of TSA employees have called in sick this week. The staffing shortage has forced the federal agency to figure out how to continue providing airport security with fewer screeners and other employees.
Some believe this epidemic — dubbed “blue flu” in reference to the blue shirts the workers wear — has something to do with the government shutdown, which is now stretching into a third week. It’s not a bad theory if you believe most people standing on their feet for eight hours a day while interacting with irritated and sometimes entitled customers wouldn’t want to do that for free.
Although there’s the promise of back pay when the shutdown ends, it doesn’t help workers who need to pay for essentials like gas or public transportation right now to get to work during the partial shutdown. And this, my friends, is one side of the government shutdown that doesn’t get the attention it should.
A study conducted by Harris Poll found that 78% of Americans working full time live paycheck to paycheck. This would partly explain why, according to Bankrate’s financial security index survey, less than 40% of Americans say they can cover a $1,000 emergency with money from their savings account.
The recent TSA staffing struggles could very well be a form of protest — and if so, I’m not mad about them. But it could also be that they are a surface expression of something more: Regular Americans are faced with the harsh reality of not having enough money squirreled away to cover a babysitter for their kids — in which case I feel for them. I’ve been there and I understand the pressures of having the transmission in the car go out while barely scraping by with a credit card that’s already been maxed out to pay for a broken water heater.
Adding insult to injury were reports early Friday that senior Trump administration officials were poised to receive pay raises — although after a torrent of press attention, by Friday night the Office of Personnel Management directed federal agencies to hold off during the government shutdown. And the lawmakers who bear some responsibility for the 420,000 essential government employees forced to work without pay are themselves still collecting paychecks, courtesy of the US Constitution.
The 27th amendment also bars Congress from passing any law affecting pay for the current term. Congress has had plenty of time to pass a law so their salaries are also furloughed during a shutdown but, for some reason, hasn’t gotten around to doing so. President Donald Trump, the man who said he would take “the mantle” of responsibility for any potential shutdown only to turn around and blame Democrats once it did, has donated his $400,000 salary. Of course he likes to point out that that sum of money is “no big deal” to him, so there’s that.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the TSA’s struggle with the “blue flu” disappears around the same time the government is up and running again. Congress isn’t required to work without pay. The President is not required to work without pay. But Americans making a fraction of these politicians’ salaries are, even though their jobs are essential. If that’s the case, our government should stop making decisions as if these ordinary citizens are disposable — the numbers suggest they can’t afford to get dragged into these sorts of games.