January 15, 2019

Bradley airport workers feeling shutdown pain

HBJ File Photo
HBJ File Photo
Bradley International Aiport.

Adrian Pellot and his wife Sarah Small are among the roughly 150 Transportation Security Administration agents at Bradley International Airport who missed their first paycheck last week, and the couple's concerns are mounting as the federal government shutdown rolls into a 24th day.

Pellot, 36, who has worked as a behavior detection officer for more than 10 years, said he thinks about his missed paycheck almost constantly and feels frustrated that the government isn't thinking about federal workers as people that have bills to pay.

"Instead the government is holding us as a bargaining chip—so it's agitating," Pellot said. He and Small are now depending on their savings to pay their bills.

Small, who works part-time as a transportation security officer while in nursing school, said not bringing in any income is hard.

"It's more nerve-wracking because of the fact that if this shutdown lasts any longer one us is going to have to find something," Small said.

About 25 percent of the federal government closed after funding ran dry Dec. 22, including the Department of Homeland Security, which has authority over the TSA. There are more than 8,000 federal workers in Connecticut, and Pellot and Small are among 1,500 affected by the shutdown. Some of those impacted workers, like Pellot and Small, are considered "essential" and required to work without pay. Others were furloughed.

On Monday, there was little progress made to end the shutdown, although a bipartisan group of senators planned to meet in the evening to try to work something out.

Last week, talks collapsed between President Donald Trump, who is demanding an additional $5 billion to build a border wall, and congressional Democrats, who are holding firm on their objections to the creation of that barrier.

Pellot and Small were among a handful of federal workers and union officials who met with Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Monday morning. Blumenthal said those TSA workers and roughly 40 air traffic controller at Bradley who work for the shuttered Department of Transportation are suffering '"real harm and hardship" from the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

"It is also having a rippling effect throughout our economy—it is impacting industries and economic development and real jobs, … real people who need their pay and income," Blumenthal said.

He called on the state labor department to give those who are working without pay unemployment compensation, just as it will be doing for furloughed employees, and said lawmakers should change the law if necessary. The senator also criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for failing to call a package of bills to the chamber's floor that would reopen the government.

"If he calls these bills to a vote this afternoon they will pass … and if Donald Trump vetoes them, I believe there will be enough votes to override that veto," Blumenthal said.

Christopher Scofield, a technician who works in Bradley's control tower and on the airfield, said he is currently picking up as many shifts as he can at his second job as a Zamboni driver at a local skating rink. Scofield said his washing machine broke last week and he is not sure when he will be able to replace it.

Scofield said he is worried for all of the roughly 800,000 federal employees that are currently furloughed or working without pay, and noted "it can only get worse from here as far as affording bills."

Pellot, who is also a U.S. Air Force veteran, said he believes strongly in border security that involves more technology, training and people. A physical barrier can be discussed after workers get paid, he added.

"If we don't have the people there to police those things then what's the point? We need the people," Pellot said. "I believe that the human element is the strongest element of any security operation."

"Then we can worry about a physical security fence or whatever they want, but before any of that needs to happen, how about we pay the people, how about we do what the government is supposed to do and debate that in another venue rather than using us as a poker chip," Pellot said.

Quinnipiac University released a poll Monday that showed that two-thirds of the voters surveyed want the government reopened while wall funding is negotiated, the position offered by congressional Democrats.

Nearly six in 10 polled by Quinnipiac said the wall is not a good use of taxpayer dollars. Other recent polls show similar results.

Voters say, "Mr. President, it's on you" said Tim Malloy, the poll's assistant director.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in Connecticut to help federal employees who have had their pay stopped.

Connecticut United Way said it would join a new effort to assist furloughed federal workers and others impacted by the ongoing government shutdown.

United Way said it is preparing for "an expected uptick in calls to 2-1-1 from those seeking assistance with rent and mortgage payments, utility bills and groceries" and will address those new needs by " bringing together United Way's deep community knowledge with organized labor and our corporate partners who want to help those in need during the extended shutdown."

Food pantries have been established for Coast Guard members who are also victims of the shutdown. On Monday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, urged affected Coast Guard employees to apply for help from the Connecticut Military Relief Fund, which provides grants of up to $5,000 for military members and their families who are experiencing a financial hardship due to military service.

The Trump administration has moved to blunt some of the impact of the shutdown on ordinary Americans, ordering the shuttered Treasury Department to process income tax refunds and verify incomes of those seeking mortgages. It has also extended the life of the food stamp program, which is run by another closed agency, the Agriculture Department.

But federal workers affected by the shutdown won't get any relief until the closed agencies are reopened — and because Congress approved legislation last week that would allow it — these workers are also likely to receive back pay.

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