Dozens of protesters gathered at the Pittsburgh International Airport on Friday, demanding an end the partial government shutdown. Nearly 250 TSA officers are working without pay in Pittsburgh.
“Stop this shutdown, put our people back to work,” said Bill Reese, union president of American Federal Government Employees TSA Local 332, who represents 450 TSA officers across Pennsylvania at 13 airports — not including Philadelphia. “They want to pay their bills. They just want to live normal again. This is too long, 28 days is way too long. Something should have been done,” he said.
While Reese didn’t share his personal views on President Trump’s demand for funding for a steel border wall before reopening the government, he said his members are focused on their income.
“You may need border security, but we need a paycheck. They all will agree, money will run out, and things are going to get very tight for a lot of people really quick.”
Federal workers can’t pay heating bills, buy groceries: “This is not a joke. This is reality.”
— Lucy Perkins (@lucyeperk) January 18, 2019
Speakers at the rally talked about security officers who were worried about paying for heating bills, mortgages, and buying groceries.
“They’re hoping every day that it’s gonna be over,” said Ava Basalyga, a TSA officer who has worked for the agency for 16 years. “But as every day goes by, there’s more stress, there’s more worry.”
Basalyga called on Washington lawmakers to end the shutdown.
“While you’re going on with your lives and your power struggles...I just want you to know that there are real people out here fighting for their lives, fighting for their homes, and they’re fighting to feed their kids,” Basalyga said. “There are people here who have to still pay childcare and come to work without a paycheck. Do you understand that? We are human beings. You need to get out of your ivory tower … get to Washington, or do whatever you have to do to get together and compromise.”
Others laid the blame for the shutdown directly at the feet of Republican lawmakers, including Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey.
“We hope to God that somebody steps up and gets Senator Toomey and Senator McConnell to fix this,” said Phil Glover, national vice president of AFGE for District 3. “I don’t care if the President vetoes it or not, it needs to get through the United States Senate today.”
Democratic U.S. Representative Conor Lamb echoed that sentiment.
“Right now you have people here who are working, doing their job and not getting paid,” Lamb said. “And you have people in Washington who are getting paid without working. The Senate is not taking any votes!”
A Toomey spokesperson said the Republican has said he will work with colleagues on legislation to end the shutdown. On Thursday, Toomey issued a statement saying, "It is time to end government by crisis." He backed two Republican-sponsored measures that would pay federal employees working without pay during the shutdown, and that would curtail future shutdowns.
The House of Representatives has passed multiple bills, with bipartisan support, to open the government. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no plans to put up any bill for a vote unless the President will sign it.
At the airport, Reese said security is still running normally, for now.
“I can’t say if this drags out another two, to four, to six weeks, what’s going to happen,” he said. “But it’s going to get worse as time goes on.”
This story was updated to reflect Sen. Toomey's recent statements on the partial government shutdown.