One City’s Solution for Airport Employees Working Without Pay

In San Jose, California, city leaders are considering a plan to provide loans to airport employees working without pay during the partial government shutdown.

In San Jose, California, city leaders are considering a plan to provide loans to airport employees working without pay during the partial government shutdown. Shutterstock

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San José is considering a short-term, no-interest loan program to keep air traffic controllers, TSA screeners and customs officers at their posts during the federal shutdown.

San José, California’s city council is racing to issue no-interest loans to about 500 federal employees working without pay at the Mineta San José International Airport because of the partial federal government shutdown.

Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers, Transportation Security Administration screeners and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in San José haven’t received a paycheck since December.

Mayor Sam Liccardo called a special meeting Wednesday to discuss his proposal for a short-term bridge loan program, possibly in partnership with the city’s bank Wells Fargo or credit unions.

“There were concerns about whether some of the critical operations in cities around the country would continue,” Liccardo said.

Miami International Airport is already closing a terminal early each day of the shutdown, and Denver International Airport is considering cutting flights.

Loaning funds equal to monthly take-home salaries to safety-related airport employees could mean the difference between them “going to work without pay or going to work for Uber to put food on the table,” Liccardo said. A TSA screener makes about $40,000 a year, said Judy Ross, assistant director of aviation at the airport.

A total of 282 TSA workers at the San José airport are also city residents, with absences increasing from 3 to 14 percent since the start of the shutdown. After the city council announced the special meeting, only eight employees did not report to work, Ross said.

Loans would be repaid, after receipt of back pay, within a to-be-determined timeframe. The city council could not vote on the proposal Wednesday, but is expected to come back and address it once city staff has finalized details of the program.

San José has the cash reserves—set aside for airport capital investment—to pay the employees $2.5 million a month for three months, Ross said.

Some credit unions and banks are independently offering federal employees assistance during the shutdown. But their loan programs often have low limits, varying interest rates and members-only restrictions, so Liccardo said he approached Wells Fargo for assistance with the program “as a community philanthropic effort.”

“The mayor of our city has had to step in and fill in the gaps that the federal government is failing to do,” said Councilman Lan Diep.

Local governments in areas with large populations of federal workers, such as in the Washington, D.C., region, have also announced other efforts to help furloughed federal workers or those on the job without pay. For example, Loudoun County, Virginia earlier this week announced a donation to food pantries and free transit service for federal workers.

In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock said federal workers could be eligible for a new city program to help struggling families make mortgage payments up to $5,000.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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