In the midst of the longest-running government shutdown in history, Second Harvest Food Bank is delivering food for Transportation Security Administration employees at McGhee Tyson Airport.
“It’s unprecedented,” said Aaron Snukals, the food bank’s development director. “We’ve never had (people from) a federal agency calling us for help.”
The TSA’s 51,000 employees have been ordered to work without pay since the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22. They missed their first paychecks on Friday.
McGhee Tyson airport has 92 TSA employees who have been affected.
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee delivered the food packed in dozens and dozens of boxes loaded into a truck Friday, which they left parked at the airport over the weekend. The donations — which included frozen turkey, pork, pasta and peanut butter, among other items — were taken home by workers at the end of their shifts.
“We always say that people are one paycheck away from using Second Harvest, and now we’re finding out how true that is,” Snukals said.
The average annual pay for TSA agents was $19.31 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2016.
The request for the donations was put in by Brian Shoup, the local president for the American Federation of Government Employees, a union for federal workers.
“We’re taking it day by day,” said Gwendolyn Knoblock, the treasurer and secretary for the local union chapter, and who is also a TSA employee. “But we knew what the job was when we took it. We knew this (shutdown) was a possibility.”
“Everybody is there to support the mission,” she added.
She said airlines also have been providing some breakfasts for TSA employees.
Shoup said in a phone call Monday that he and Knoblock were driving a rented truck back from the Tri-Cities Airport, where they had delivered additional donations from the food bank.
The growing strain on TSA employees is a concern for travel industry officials. Some workers are choosing to stay home or quit, rather than work without pay.
The administrator of the TSA, David P. Pekoske, announced Saturday that he had approved $500 bonuses for the workers and had arranged for them to be paid for any work they performed on the first day of the shutdown.
On Monday, about one in 13 screeners nationwide failed to report for work, compared with about one out of 30 a year ago, according to reporting from The New York Times.
It was unclear Monday if rates of absenteeism among TSA workers at McGhee Tyson were higher than usual.
A call to the TSA’s regional office returned a prerecorded message explaining that the line was not monitored because of the shutdown.
“Security standards remain uncompromised,” the message stated. It added that passengers still should contact their airline ahead of time because waits may be longer.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority, Beck Huckaby, said no delays or operational issues have occurred from the shutdown.
Another MKAA representative, Caitlin Darras, said the organization’s Department of Public Safety has drafted multiple plans in the event that the shutdown continues.
Details could not be shared for security reasons, Darras said.