Furloughed TSA employees protest for paychecks as shutdown continues

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Dozens of local TSA workers are demanding an end to the government shutdown so they can get paid. Friday marks the first payday that hundreds of thousands of furloughed workers will miss since the shutdown began 21 days ago. 

On Thursday, Atlanta TSA union voiced their disapproval and said they're terrified the shutdown will force them to leave their jobs so they can put food on the table for their families. They also said leaving now would cause many of them to forfeit the pension they've been working toward for years. 

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The AFGE Local 554 held a rally in front of the Domestic North Terminal of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Thursday afternoon.

This week, the government shutdown had begun to impact travel as TSA agents and air traffic controllers continue to work without promise of pay and FAA inspectors remain on furlough.

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Several dozen workers were seen out front carrying signs and getting the attention of travelers during the rally.

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TSA acknowledges that more screeners are calling in sick at some airports, including Dallas-Fort Worth International. It gave few numbers but issued a statement Friday saying that more have been missing work since the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The TSA said the effect was "minimal."

Then over the weekend, travelers reported longer checkpoint lines at some airports, including LaGuardia in New York.

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On Monday, TSA tweeted that agents screened 2.22 million passengers nationwide on Sunday, which it called a "historically busy day due to holiday travel." TSA said only about 220,000 travelers waited at least 15 minutes at checkpoints, while 0.2 percent - fewer than 5,000 - waited at least 30 minutes.

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Airport screeners start around $24,000 and most earn between $26,000 and $35,000 a year, according to TSA. That is far less than many other government employees, making them more vulnerable if they don't get paid.

TSA spokesman Jim Gregory said officials are managing. "If we don't have appropriations by midweek or so, (officers) will miss their first paycheck. That's obviously where it becomes more difficult," he said.

Gregory said the agency has a team of officers who can go to airports facing a shortage, a tactic developed in case natural disasters prevented screeners from getting to work.

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The Associated Press contributed to this article