On December 23, 2018, President Trump decided to provide government workers, not with a holiday bonus but rather a holiday punishment: a 5-week long government shutdown.
President Trump shutdown the government in response to his self-proclaimed “national emergency” due to a “border-wall crisis” or more truthfully, Democratic Congressional members’ unwillingness to allocate $5.7 billion to the construction of a wall. In the past, a “national emergency” was used sparingly for disasters such as 9/11, and the swine flu outbreak. Trump’s “border wall crisis” has been much more difficult to quantify. Arrests of undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border have dropped by more than 75% since the early 2000s, and has remained roughly the same since 2010. Nothing about these numbers indicates that Trump has any logical reason to declare a “national emergency.” Alarmingly, President Trump planned on cutting into disaster relief funds to pay for the wall.
One of the ways Trump sold himself to the voters in the 2016 election was by claiming he was a billionaire “outsider” and “not a politician.” While this idea was refreshing to some, it seems to have backfired. One thing Trump has been consistently honest about is the fact that he isn’t a politician, and has no idea how to navigate the political system. Despite having a majority in Congress and the Supreme Court for two full years, he was unable to deliver on his primary campaign promise: a wall, frustrating notable conservatives such as Ann Coulter.
When he didn’t get his way, Trump attempted to hurt a group of workers not involved in his border dispute in any way whatsoever: Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents. TSA agents have a starting salary at $23,000 that is capped at $43,000 making them some of the many Americans that live paycheck to paycheck. Throughout the course of the shutdown, TSA agents missed two. As TSA agents are considered “essential” employees, they are required to work and not allowed to strike, even through government shutdowns with no pay.
Unable to pay for food or other basic services, TSA agents were forced to quietly take “sick” days to search for additional forms of employment. Nearly 10% of agents took these sick days while other airports from Pittsburgh to Dallas erupted into protest, tired of being used as political pawns. Churches helped fill the void by providing workers with meals “indefinitely” allowing workers to pay for other bills. The wife of one TSA agent, “Jacinda” said she didn’t know how she’d get presents for her child’s birthday and that her husband was asininely told to “file for unemployment” at work.
For being such “essential” employees, TSA agents are treated as disposable. Why is airport security “essential” but employees’ ability to feed and provide for their families, is not? Critics claim TSA agents have a certain obligation to “obey” their employer, but it’s almost comical to claim any authority over unpaid employees when in reality, President Trump should simply be thankful that more agents didn’t protest. Employees aren’t servants, and can’t expect to “keep a smile on their face” for their work that was essentially degraded to forced volunteering, as every painful minute they spend at their unpaid occupation, they waste a potential minute they could’ve been working elsewhere to pay their electric bill. The very nature of ongoing, unpaid TSA labor is more resemblant of that of indentured servants, not modern employees worthy of basic protections and respect.
If strikes limit the functionality of an airport, so be it. My vacation can wait, but TSA agents’ bills cannot. This mistreatment would not be tolerated by the law if the employer was in the private sector, so why is it tolerated if the employer is Uncle Sam?