Transportation Security Administration officers are increasingly calling out sick ever since the partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22 and forced personnel to work without pay. CNN was first to report the story, saying that hundreds of TSA officers called out sick from work this past week. One source even called it a “blue flu,” in reference to the blue shirts that the security officers who check bags at airports wear. “This will definitely affect the flying public who we [are] sworn to protect,” Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN.
Some of the numbers are staggering. More than 150 TSA employees called out sick on Friday morning at Kennedy International Airport in New York, reports the New York Times. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the number of TSA officers who are calling out sick has increased by 200 to 300 percent, according to CNN. Although some contend the sick call outs could be a form of protest, union officials say it’s more likely that those who are calling out sick are simply trying to arrange temporary work to earn a bit of cash.
The Department of Homeland Security reacted angrily to the CNN report, with a. spokesman labeling it as “fake news” and denying the problem existed. “More #FakeNews from @CNN. Security operations at airports have not been impacted by a non-existent sick out,” Tyler Houlton wrote on Twitter. But the TSA later essentially confirmed the report, saying there had been an increase in employees calling out sick but denying that the trend had affected operations. “Call outs began over the Holiday period and have increased, but are causing minimal impact given there are 51,739 employees supporting the screening process,” the TSA said. The TSA also warned that if the “number of call outs” increase wait times could also rise.
President Donald Trump later weighed in on the issue and praised Houlton for his tweet, calling CNN “a proud member of the Opposition Party.”
The president’s criticism led CNN to send out its own tweet defending its reporting, noting it had talked to “numerous TSA & union officials” for the report.
This article has been updated with new information since it was first published.