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TSA Agents at the Ithaca-Tompkins Airport

If you have been flying recently you probably noticed that TSA agents are on the job, providing security at the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.  About 15 local TSA agents man the airport, and while it is business as usual at the check-in line, they are not getting paid because of the partial federal government shutdown that exceeded the record for federal shutdowns at 34 days (today) and counting.  Lansing Food Pantry Director Toni Adams decided to do something about it.  She reached out to Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne, who put her in touch with Airport Director Mike Hall with the result that the Food Pantry has been providing food fr TSA agents who choose to avail themselves of the service.

"This has been phenomenal, even to the point of offering to meet on individual basis to help them out," says Hall. "From a practical point of view it's not like having your salary.  But from the standpoint of a moral point of view, a support point of view, making the agents feel like they're valued, it's terrific.   was talking with them yesterday and they all said how much they appreciate it.  Not all of them have taken advantage of it, but they all appreciate it.  As a gesture from the community it's absolutely terrific."

Local TSA agents have been showing up for work, despite the absence of pay.  They are among the 420,000 'essential government employees' who are required to work with or without pay.  When the government re-opens they will be paid retroactively for the hours they put in during the shutdown.  But Hall notes that doesn't help them pay the bills now, and elsewhere around the country TSA agents who cannot afford to work without pay have been calling in sick. 

As early as January 4th CNN reported that hundreds of TSA screeners were calling in sick rather than working without pay at major airports, with 'call-outs' increasing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by between 200% and 300%.  The report added that the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham airports have experienced 10% higher TSA call-outs than usual.  Last week CNBC reported "travelers have faced long security lines at some airports, including at the world’s busiest, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport."

TSA Federal Security Director for all the airports in the state outside of New York City Bart Johnson says that TSA agents have been showing up for work at all the airports he oversees, including Ithaca. 

"I attribute that to the dedication and professionalism of the officers," he says.  "It's a tough situation for them to be dealing with.  But hopefully it will be wrapped up soon and we can go on with business as usual."

Hall says he thinks local agents have been reporting for work, in part, because they feel part of the Ithaca-Tompkins community.

"If you're a TSA agent in Atlanta there are about five million people around, whereas here, in many cases, they know the passengers," Hall says. "They're their next door neighbors. So there's more personal incentive to show up and support your community even though you're not getting paid than in a metropolitan area where you're disassociated."

Adams says the local Lansing Community Council has offered support that helps make the initiative possible.

"We just received over $4,500 from the Community Council as a result of their annual giving campaign. This donation comes at a great time to further enable us to support the 15 TSA employees," she says. "This is exactly why people want to live in Lansing!  Our deepest gratitude to the Community Council and the individuals that donated to their giving campaign."

LaVigne says Adams invites TSA agents to the Food Pantry on special days when the Food Pantry is not open, schedules the times to dovetail with their work schedules.  Not all the agents have taken advantage of the offer, but both Hall and LaVigne, who is also President of the Lansing Community Council, say TSA agents have told them how appreciative they are.

"I took a moment to stop over at the airport and talk to them," LaVigne says. "They are very appreciative.  I talked to them about this situation and how we can help."

"We can't accept cash or anything like that, but any offer of assistance at this period of time is greatly appreciated," Johnson says. "The officers in Ithaca and all the TSA airports are very dedicated, hard working people. They understand and know the mission very well.  But with the current situation it can be stressful."

Hall had already been approached by a couple who wanted to buy lunch for the local TSA agents when LaVigne called about two weeks ago.  But despite good intentions, the potential for ethical conflicts prevent individuals from giving such gifts to federal employees.  When Hall checked again he was told there is no objection to organizations like the Food Pantry helping out.

LaVigne says he hopes to get more of the Community Council's campaign postcards out this year.  He says that 'buy one, get one free' offers at local markets are a perfect way to get food to donate, and says he wants to encourage local churches to hold canned food drives and other efforts to support the Food Pantry.

TSA representatives say there have been other offers to provide some relief to workers around the region while their paychecks are not forthcoming.  Hall says he knows there have been discussions of other local initiatives, but a limit on the amount government employees may receive as a gift makes it difficult to do.  Hall says the best solution will be for the government to fully reopen.

"What we all hope is that the powers that be will get the government back up and running, because this Friday is a particular crunch time for the people with salaries," he said Wednesday. "This will be orders of magnitude worse this Friday, the next pay period."

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