While many New Yorkers sought out warmth on a cold winter day in Queens, dozens of Transportation Security Administration workers stood in the frigid temperatures to receive a much-needed bag of food to take home to their families.
Speaking of his 13-year-old daughter, TSA employee Carlos Rodriguez said, “She sees that on the news people keep talking about how government workers are not getting paid and she wonders what’s going to happen? How is this going to impact our lives?”
The 38-year-old Long Island resident is just one of nearly 3,000 Transportation Security Administration employees who has yet to receive a paycheck since the government partly shut down in December.
The federal government reopened fully after 35 days on Jan. 25, but Rodriguez is unsure if he and his co-workers will receive full compensation for the work conducted over the past month when they receive their first paycheck of the year on Thursday. With no certainty of financial compensation in sight, City Harvest stepped in to help workers provide for their loved ones.
On Tuesday, City Harvest volunteers distributed more than 8,000 pounds of fresh produce and canned meats to TSA employees outside of LaGuardia Airport.
“It’s been very difficult,” Rodriguez said. “Our work force is almost a 50-50 split between males and females. A lot of them are single mothers; a lot of them are minorities; a lot of them are retirees from the military or other police departments and they come to TSA as their second home, their second career. Because of that, a lot of them have financial needs and live paycheck to paycheck.”
Max Hoffman, senior procurement logistics manager at City Harvest, said the food distribution was the first organized specifically for federal workers, but the nonprofit plans to do more as the need persists.
“Our agency network has definitely relayed a heightened level of need throughout the five boroughs and I do know that some of our partner food banks in other cities in the tristate area have seen the same thing,” he said. “We will continue to do so until the need isn’t quite there.”
American Federation of Government Employees Local 2222 is the union representing Rodriguez and other TSA employees in the area. AFGE vice president Maxel Shabay Izquierdo described the government shutdown’s impact on federal employees as "demoralizing" and "crippling."
"With our operation we protect the fine public. We’ve done it for 16 years,” he said of TSA’s services, including ensuring that bombs and weapons do not make it onto thousands of flights daily. “We have an impeccable record and a plane hasn’t gone down in those 16 years. That’s a testament to the men and women who put their uniform on every single day."
Izquierdo recounted how many other TSA employees have faced similar, if not more difficult situations as Rodriguez since the shutdown. One woman desperately called another union representative because she had to return the only present her young son wanted for Christmas.
“All her son wanted for Christmas was an Xbox and she had to bring it back after her son did so good the entire year,” he said. “He asked her why Santa had to take back his Christmas gift and she couldn’t explain.”
At the end of the day, Rodriguez said that he and so many others are grateful for the generosity of City Harvest and many others who have stepped up to help.
“A month of not getting paid was not really the problem. It’s more of the uncertainty of how many months this could last,” he said of the back pay situation. "We’re really grateful now that people have been made aware of how important our jobs are. . . . It has allowed us to receive this outpour of generosity and good will.”