It’s a tough job even in the best of times: Transportation Security Administration officers often take a lot of grief from frustrated travelers. Starting pay is low, and the agency consistently ranks near the bottom of annual surveys that look at employee morale.
During a government shutdown, however, TSA officers are considered essential — required to show up for work even if they aren’t getting paid. Reports have circulated that some simply aren’t reporting for duty. Friday marks the first time since the shutdown began last month that they won’t be getting a paycheck.
Still, those who are reporting for duty are getting something they may not normally receive: respect and appreciation from travelers.
There’s the adorable photograph circulating on Twitter of two young travelers holding a sign that says: “Thank You TSA FOR KEEPING MY FAMILY SAFE!”
Scattered through the agency’s @askTSA Twitter feed are messages of encouragement and appreciation. More than a few travelers offered to express their support with cards and gifts of home-baked cookies — both no-no’s under the TSA’s ethics policies.
The folks at Hope Supply Company, a nonprofit agency in North Texas that provides diapers to needy families, offered to help TSA families who might be struggling because they aren’t getting paid for their work.
“We had heard through the news and on [NPR] that TSA employees might not be able to make basic ends meet,” said Liz Muth, development and community outreach manager for the nonprofit, which was founded in 1989. “We were thinking that we’d be happy to provide diapers or hygiene items if people needed some help.”
So Muth tweeted the offer to @askTSA.
Appreciated, but again, the ethics issue.
Muth said they weren’t giving up and that Hope would try to find other ways to help TSA workers and others affected by the shutdown.
“We know how scary it can be to go without a paycheck and how expensive diapers are,” she added.
TSA officials say they appreciate the gestures.
“We are humbled by the acts of kindness and support from industry and the public, who clearly recognize and admire our officers’ efforts,” the agency said in a statement posted on its website. “TSA will continue to conduct the critical work necessary to secure the nation’s transportation systems. Not on our watch.”
The salary for TSA officers can vary depending on where the job is based. According to listings on the federal government job website, USAJobs, an officer in Pullman, Wash., would start at $15.63 an hour, but one working in Fort Worth would start at $16.72 an hour or $34,888 a year.
“I know people driving for Lyft to make some extra cash,” wrote TSA officer Angel Stephensen in a recent piece for The Washington Post. Both Stephensen and her husband are TSA officers and consider themselves lucky that they have some savings to keep them afloat.
She does have one piece of advice for folks who do want to help.
“When one passenger tried to give me a cash tip, I had to refuse,” she wrote. “I could lose my job if I accepted, I told her. But thanks for the thought. Instead, tell your congressperson.”