Second shutdown poses more dangers for the flying public, workers say
By LORI ARATANI | The Washington Post | Published: February 11, 2019
Flight attendants, teachers and federal aviation safety workers on Monday warned Congress that a second government shutdown could be catastrophic for a system still struggling to repair the damage from the longest shutdown in the nation's history.
"We're here to let the American public know that there was no end to that shutdown," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO. "The shutdown has continued. The harm has continued. The programs for safety and security that continue to run and help to make us safer have not been fully restored."
Nelson spoke at a news conference at Reagan National Airport, where she and other labor leaders called on budget negotiators to stop punishing federal workers for their inability to reach a deal.
At a time when many federal workers are still trying to recover financially and emotionally from more than a month of not working or working without pay, the threat of a second shutdown could have even more dire consequences for aviation safety, they said.
"It is wrong to use workers and their families and the flying public as pawns in a political game," said Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America. "We saw firsthand and many of our members saw firsthand during the last shutdown how dangerous it is to furlough aviation safety officers and withhold their paychecks."
The warnings came as lawmakers continued efforts to revive budget negotiations that broke down over the weekend over border security issues, including money for President Trump's long-sought border wall.
Even if negotiators are able to reach an agreement, the House and Senate must pass identical spending bills that Trump would need to sign into law to avoid a partial shutdown set to begin Saturday.
Meanwhile, as union officials and congressional negotiators worked to end the impasse, other lawmakers were working to shield the nation's aviation system in the event that a future shutdown does occur.
Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rick Larsen, D-Wash., introduced legislation Friday that would protect the Federal Aviation Administration from future shutdowns by using revenue from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund to fund FAA programs and personnel.
Revenue from the trust fund comes from a variety of sources including taxes on domestic air tickets, commercial fuel, general aviation gasoline and cargo.
DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the legislation and the impact of the 35-day shutdown on the aviation industry.
An estimated 800,000 federal employees were furloughed or working without pay during the shutdown. That included more than 30,000 Transportation Security Administration officers, air traffic controllers and other FAA employees.
Nelson and others urged the public to lobby their representatives in Congress. And as part of the effort to mobilize the public, they announced several rallies scheduled for Saturday should a second shutdown occur. Events are scheduled in Houston, Chicago and Honolulu.
"We're calling on the American public - if Congress chooses chaos and chooses to put our industry into turmoil, we're calling on the American public to join us at airports around the country," Nelson said. "There are things that we must do today to support our federal workers to keep us safe, to keep our aviation system running and to make sure that this Congress is keeping our safety and security out of politics."
As the shutdown stretched from days into weeks, a growing number of TSA officers - citing financial hardship - stopped coming to work. Union leaders said air traffic controllers were similarly stretched, with some taking second jobs to make ends meet.
While the impacts of the partial shutdown rippled across the government, affecting everything from tax returns to food inspection, some of the most high-profile examples played out at the nation's airports where travelers in Baltimore, Atlanta, Houston and elsewhere were caught in long security lines because of a shortage of TSA officers to screen passengers.
In fact, some credit the temporary slowdown of flights into and out of New York's LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 25 for pushing negotiators and Trump to reach a deal. The FAA was forced to slow flights into the busy New York airport, as well as flights at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International, because several air traffic controllers called out.
When the end of the shutdown was announced, District of Columbia Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, tweeted: "Thank you air traffic controllers. You scared Trump straight into opening the government."