Air traffic controllers and TSA agents at Portland International Airport told lawmakers they're selling plasma and considering looking for work in the private sector as a result of the ongoing government shutdown.
About 60 air traffic controllers and up to 400 TSA agents at PDX have been working without pay since the government shutdown first began over two weeks ago. The shutdown occurred because of a disagreement between the president and congressional Democrats over funding for a border wall.
Oregon Democratic Reps. Kurt Schrader and Suzanne Bonamici met with employees at PDX Tuesday to hear how they're being affected by the shutdown ahead of President Donald Trump's planned primetime address on the southern border, where he made another plea for border wall funding.
"We heard this morning about a gentleman here who works for TSA and his wife going out to sell plasma because they need the resources to meet their expenses," Bonamici said Tuesday.
The lawmakers are heading back to Washington, D.C., where they say they intend to share what they heard from PDX employees. They say they'll use the information to make a plea to their counterparts in the Senate to pass a bill that doesn't include funding for a border wall but would reopen the government. Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden voted in favor of one of those Democratic bills.
"If [the president] wants to have a debate about the wall, we can do that," Bonamici said. "But we should absolutely not shut down the government to do it and take paychecks away from people who are working hard to keep our country safe."
The lawmakers said paying TSA agents and air traffic controllers at PDX is a matter of safety. Schrader said he spoke with a new employee who was scheduled to start work at PDX but is now "caught in between" as a result of the shutdown and can't work.
"He just got a new home up here, he now can't get paid," Schrader said. "It's a horrible situation."
TSA employees at PDX have not followed suit with employees at some of the nation's largest airports, where people have called in sick in mass numbers because of the shutdown.
Greg Biel with the American Federation of Government Employees said more employees will be forced to seek employment elsewhere if the shutdown continues. He said the effect will be short-staffing and more stress for employees who continue to work.
"It's just a snowball effect," Biel said. "And we just cannot continue with this, it has to end very soon."