800,000 federal workers around the country are about to miss a paycheck as the partial government shutdown prepares to enter its fourth week. Many are in positions vital to public safety and national security, and have been forced to work without pay. With no end in sight, local workers are nearing the end of their financial resources.
The Transportation Security Administration employs more than 800 people in Hawaii. All of the blue-shirted security officers who screen airline bags and passengers are considered essential employees and are working without pay. Several major airports on the mainland have been experiencing shortages of security officers as TSA employees opt to take sick leave, rather than work without pay.
The so-called "blue flu" has not yet hit Hawaii, but local agents are already feeling the financial pinch. According to union representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees many TSA officers have already begun working second jobs to support themselves during the shutdown. That is in addition to their fulltime work for the federal government, which as of Friday will be uncompensated.
Union leaders shared stories of pregnant women and adult caregivers who are already approaching the edge of their safety nets. One told HPR that he suspects some of his members will likely consider leaving the federal workforce altogether should the shutdown continue much longer.
The situation is not limited to TSA workers. Corrections officers and support staff with the federal Bureau of Prisons are also feeling squeezed. A representative for the AFGE Prisons Council, Dwayne Bautista, told HPR that prison officers have been taking approved leave since the shutdown began, but not necessarily because of the shutdown. The scheduling crunch has resulted in officers being repeatedly asked to work 16-hour shifts, sometimes multiple days in a row.
The AFGE representatives all expressed hope that Congress would authorize backpay for essential workers once the government reopens, but it is not guaranteed. They are exploring whether furloughed and essential workers are eligible for unemployment benefits through the State of Hawaii. If that is possible, it would not likely be until the shutdown reaches the 30-day mark. If nothing changes, the shutdown will become the longest in American history on Saturday.