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‘These employees are struggling:’ TSA rallies outside RDU to demand end of shutdown

Facing a second missed paycheck, despite working through the government shutdown, a handful of Transportation Security Administration employees vented their frustrations in front of Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s main terminal on Wednesday.

RDU limited the number of demonstrators to 10, and corralled them inside a metal barricade at the far end of the Terminal 2 drop-off area, where few passengers were likely to encounter their signs and chants. Still, their message got out through the scrum of TV cameras and other media their rally attracted.

“We as TSA employees would like for this shutdown to end immediately and for the federal government to pay these employees for the work they’ve performed over the last 33 days,” said Mac Johnson, a TSA worker at RDU who heads Local 449 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

“These employees are struggling financially,” Johnson said. “TSA employees are some of the lowest paid federal employees in the country, so it’s not like these guys make a lot of money. Most live paycheck to paycheck.”

Tangela Campbell, who has worked for the TSA since the agency was created after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, says she is getting by with help from family members, who have sent money and food packages.

“I’m independent. I really don’t like taking handouts or accepting help,” said Campbell, who lives in Cary. “So personally it’s really hard for me.”

Keisha Handy, who also lives in Cary and has worked as a TSA screener at RDU for a little more than two years, said she has had to contact all her creditors, especially her mortgage company, to arrange for late payments. They’ve all been understanding, Handy said.

The TSA workers say they’ve also received gestures of support from the community. Johnson said people have given workers gift cards and restaurants have provided pizza, subs and other free meals.

And passengers, who would normally be indifferent at best going through airport security, have been “overwhelmingly nice,” Handy said.

“Without the shutdown? Passengers come through a little upset,” she said. “But now during the shutdown, they understand the situation. They’re very nice. It’s almost like every other passenger says ‘Thank you. Thank you for what you do.’ So that definitely warms your heart.”

Still, Handy said she doesn’t know how long she can go on without pay. A third missed paycheck might be enough to prompt her to quit the TSA, she said.

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TSA employee Mac Johnson chants as fellow federal government employees protest the government shutdown outside Terminal 2 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on Wednesday in Morrisville. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The TSA workers didn’t express a preference for whether the shutdown should end with funding for a wall along the Mexican border or not. Johnson noted U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will allow senators to vote on two competing bills that would reopen the government — one from Republicans with money for the wall and one from Democrats without it.

“We just ask the Senate Majority Leader to call the vote,” Johnson said. “Call the vote and end the shutdown so the federal employees can get paid again and return to a life of normalcy.”

How to help

There isn’t a fund set up to aid TSA employees specifically, but GoFundMe has established a fundraiser at https://www.gofundme.com/govshutdown. The money will be distributed to charities across the country that are helping furloughed workers. You can also donate to local food banks, including the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, that are seeing increased need.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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