Being a TSA officer is not easy. It’s a highly stressful job because a single mistake could mean life or death for hundreds of people on board an airplane. And because of their crucial mission, you’d think that TSA officers would get all the support they need to do their job, right? Well, not exactly. Congress is actually threatening to shut down the Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency of TSA. And that means TSA officers will still have to work because their job is considered essential. They just won’t get paid.
Being forced to work without pay would be enough to unnerve anyone. But for Vaughn and Tammy Glenn, there is twice the anxiety: Both are TSA Officers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and they’re married to one another. If Congress shuts down the Department of Homeland Security this week, both would go without a paycheck. That means no income for the mortgage, the car payment, or even groceries.
Vaughn and Tammy have one boy and three girls to feed, and they don’t know what to do if they are required to work but don’t get paid. They pay $40 a day for day care. Maybe they’ll ask the day care lady if they could pay her when they get paid. But they don’t know if she will agree — they are the primary source of income for her. If they can’t pay her, she can’t pay her bills.
Then there is a mortgage. This month they should be fine. They learned from the last shutdown almost two years ago that they have to be prepared. But they have the money only for this month. Despite being the very people who keep bombs off the planes, they don’t get paid a whole lot. He makes $42,000 a year. She makes $37,000. So if TSA shuts down and they don’t get paid, they won’t be able to pay next month’s mortgage. And the bank won’t care. The last time he was late on payments because of the shutdown and he gave the bank and credit card companies a letter TSA gave him explaining why the payments were late, they didn’t waive any fees. Many of his co-workers almost went bankrupt, their credit ruined, and the creditors didn’t care. They just wanted their money.
Then there is his car. It’s in the auto shop and will be ready in a few days. But he won’t have the money to pay for it. Or for the monthly payment for this and his wife’s car. Then there is gas. Detroit Metropolitan Airport is 30 miles from the city of Detroit – each way.
After working for TSA for 13 years – since the agency was created, he is disheartened, disappointed, still cannot believe he and his family have to go through this kind of uncertainty and anguish once again in less than two years. He has not told his kids about their financial situation. The last shutdown, he struggled to explain to them why Congress had to close the government and why they couldn’t do this or that because they didn’t have the money.
He thinks about his co-workers. Sixty percent of TSA officers at Detroit Metropolitan Airport are part-time employees, making $700 a pay check for a two-week pay period. Many are single parents and will be hit the hardest. Not being able to pay bills or put food on the table for their families will undoubetedly affect their work.
“You gotta have your A game when you work for TSA. When you’re screening passengers, you gotta be focused 100 percent. You can’t have in the back of your mind if I’m going to be able to pay my bills, pay my baby sitter or get gas to come to work. You can’t be thinking about that and try to do your job at 100 percent,” Vaughs says. He is also AFGE Local 778 president.
Vaughn and his co-workers love what they do. They know their jobs matter. They are proud to serve. But they also have a family to support. They hope members of Congress keep them and their families in mind whenever they disagree on things and want to shut down the government.