Rep. Katie Hill discusses government shutdown with local air traffic controllersRyan Painter January 22, 2019 1 COMMENT
As the partial government shutdown eclipsed its one month mark on Monday, Jan. 21, Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) held a roundtable discussion with air traffic control union representatives in Palmdale, soliciting comments and concerns from industry leaders amid the longest funding lapse in U.S. history.
Hill gathered representatives from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the Transportation Security Agency in the conference room of her recently-opened Palmdale district office, where she explained her position on President Donald Trump’s latest proposal to end the shutdown. The union leaders were given the following hour to speak. Many expressed their desire to see an immediate end to the shutdown irrespective of the political impacts.
The congresswoman, who will fly back to Washington on Monday night, said that she will not support the compromise package that Trump proposed on Saturday — which would include a $5.7 billion appropriation to build the wall in exchange for three-years worth of protection for DACA recipients — in the House this week.
“The deal that President Trump tried to put forward two days ago isn’t really a deal,” she said. “The deal is two temporary protections for populations where he created the problem. It was a problem created by him that he’s now proposing to solve.”
Instead, Hill argued that the president must reopen the government before any further negotiation on border security takes place. Only after doing so, Hill said that she would support a blue ribbon panel to explore more permanent solutions to the issue of border security.
“What we worry is that if we try to make some kind of a political compromise now, that it’s just saying that in the future you can do this whenever you don’t get something that you want,” she said. “But you can’t do that on the backs of people who have nothing to do with this political fight.”
For some of the union leaders, many of whom have now gone a month without pay, the political implications of ending the shutdown were of little concern.
“In the beginning, everyone had an opinion,” NATCA Regional Vice President Joel Ortiz said during the panel. “And now, once you’re not getting paychecks, it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s a moot point now.”
“To see people that are working hard, that show up to work everyday, being used as pawns this way is devastating,” Ryan Mims, an AFGE District 12 legislative political organizer, said. “I’ve always believed in an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. This is a slap in the face and completely disrespectful that we’re having to show up and not get paid.”
Nate Pair, an Air Force veteran and Local NATCA President, echoed a similar point of view, suggesting that many of his workers no longer care about the political maneuvering inherent in the shutdown.
“The talk of whose fault (it is) is so far gone that people are just scared for themselves,” Pair, who represents over 300 air traffic controllers, said. “As reps, we try to stay very bipartisan, but it’s gotten to a point, though, where (the workers) don’t care. Watching TV and hearing the back and forth, it’s getting tough to hear the rhetoric.”
Pair highlighted a common refrain of the shutdown: unable to receive pay but still being forced to work, federal employees are seeking second jobs, like driving for Uber or Lyft.
Despite not receiving pay, employees who are deemed essential are required to keep working and can face disciplinary action should they call-out to pursue a temporary, second job in order to make ends meet. Pair said that in light of this trade-off, some federal workers are leaving their trained profession altogether, a decision he has personally observed in his constituency.
“Some people’s savings may get them through one paycheck or two (missed) paychecks, but eventually everybody’s got a breaking point,” he said. “As our attrition continues to go, and our mandatory retirement, when they get to the point where they say ‘I’m done, I’m going to go,” the impact is going to be far reached.”
Some employees are even incurring debt in order to continue to work.
“The average (TSA officer) makes $40,000 a year, and if you’re traveling to LAX and are stuck in traffic three or four hours to and from work, you’re using up all your savings just to get to and from work,” Mims said. “We have first responders without paychecks, we have food inspectors without paychecks, these are big deals to make sure our country functions properly.”
Mims worries that by rendering qualified professional jobs financially untenable, the shutdown could manufacture a national security crisis of its own.
“People need to realize just how dangerous this is for our country,” he said. “Air traffic controllers, transportation security officers, the coast guard — these people only have to mess up once for there to be a disaster. Their jobs are super stressful, they take off and protect this country. You want to talk about national security, this is it, because they make sure we’re safe when we fly in airplanes.”
After nearly two decades of working for the federal government, Pair said that even he himself could soon become a victim of the shutdown.
“When I got hired, there was no disclaimer and there was no asterisk at the bottom of my signature form that said ‘prepare for a government shutdown and have your family prepared that you will not get paid,’” he said. “We can go a couple of months and that’s it. Otherwise I’m gone. I’m going to have to take my 18 years and I’m going to have to find other employment, because I’ve got three kids and a wife that need to be supported as well.”
Near the end of the discussion, Pair elicited a strong reaction out of Hill, who promised to bring the anecdotes she heard back to Capitol Hill, when he mentioned his most recent paycheck. Pair confirmed that although the government was shut down, he still received a physical paycheck on Jan. 11, the government’s first missed payment period. Written in the “pay to” section of that check, however, was “$0.00.”
Hill shot up in her seat.
“And you actually got physical (paychecks)?” she asked. “What the hell?”
“Yup,” he said, cracking a slight smile. “We got zero-point-zero-zero dollar paychecks.”
Ryan Painter covers government and politics for The Proclaimer. He has worked at the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, the Daily Trojan and as a campaign staffer during 2018 midterm elections. A 2016 West Ranch graduate, Ryan studies Political Science and International Relations at USC. Find him on Twitter @ryan_pintor.