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Indianapolis TSA workers scared, frustrated as shutdown continues

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Some Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers in Indianapolis are frustrated, overwhelmed and calling out sick because they aren’t getting paid, they said.

Airport workers are also worried speaking out about shutdown-related concerns will cost them their jobs.

They requested not to be identified following what they described as a “briefing” where supervisors instructed them not to speak with media.

Officials at Indianapolis International Airport (IND) — an award-winning travel hub known for efficient and friendly service — denied any evidence of “blue flu” or a “TSA sickout” as the partial federal government shutdown entered its third week. 

"Any instances of people calling in sick that have occurred at IND since the current government shutdown began have remained consistent with this time of year," TSA and airport representatives said in a joint statement to News 8, citing "cold and flu season" as a possible explanation for any increase in sick calls after the winter holidays. 

James Gregory, the TSA's Deputy Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, declined to confirm the number of absent employees in Indianapolis.

More than 51,000 TSA officers nationwide are expected to work without pay as the federal government remains partially closed.

Reports of workers calling out sick — either in protest or to earn money elsewhere — have been followed by passenger complaints about long lines at major airports including LaGuardia in New York City. 

TSA representatives claimed LaGuardia's nearly hour-long wait for standard security screening on Sunday — a "historically busy day due to holiday travel" — was caused by a "mismanagement of resources," rather than an unusually high number of sick calls.

Nationwide, employees screened approximately 2.22 million passengers Sunday, Gregory said in an email to News 8. 

He said 99.8 percent of the passengers waited on line for less than 30 minutes; 90.1 percent waited less than 15 minutes.

Passengers and airline employees flying out of IND Monday said they did not notice unusually long lines or "anything else out of the ordinary" at security checkpoint.

Standard screening took less than 15 minutes, they told News 8.

"I have TSA PreCheck so I'm usually in good shape," said Joanne Sanders, an Indianapolis resident departing from IND. "But I'm worried about them [TSA workers]. I think they deserve to get paid. I think it's ludicrous."

She referenced President Donald Trump's statements about negotiating with landlords and "making adjustments" to make ends meet during the ongoing shutdown.

"That doesn't happen in the real world!" Sanders said.

TSA workers in Indianapolis said it was "only a matter of time" before the shutdown impacted their job performance and morale, in addition to essential airport operations at IND. 

When pressed to explain how they were riding out fear and uncertainty, one agent said he was "focused on the mission" of their work and remained confident "everything will work out."

Another said he planned to begin searching for a new job if the shutdown extended past Friday — the day he would have received his regular paycheck.

"Some of us live paycheck-to-paycheck," he said. "Of course this is tough."

The average TSA salary is approximately $38,000.

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