TSA creates food pantry for workers at MSP, air traffic controllers lobby public over government shutdown

January 14, 2019 06:42 PM

More than 1,100 Transportation Security Administration agents and air traffic controllers in the Twin Cities just missed their first paychecks and they're working through the uncertainty together – even asking the public for help to break the impasse shutting down the government in Washington.

To make sure no one goes hungry, TSA workers turned a small, unused room in Terminal 2 into a makeshift food pantry. The room that was once empty is now full of macaroni and cheese, cereal, peanut butter, canned goods and other essentials. Employees are being encouraged to take what they need for their families.


Cliff Van Leuven is Homeland Security's Federal Security Director at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He said the effort to make sure the airport's 650 TSA employees have enough to eat came from within. 

RELATED: Government shutdown causes growing concern at MSP International Airport

"Our folks have taken it and run with it," Van Leuven said. "This has all accumulated I think from over the weekend."

Despite missing a paycheck, and there being no end to the federal government shutdown in sight, Van Leuven said the airport hasn't seen any unusual delays or higher-than-usual numbers of people calling in sick.

"They're showing up for work in the face of not getting paid and doing the important security work the public trusts them to do," Van Leuven said.

However, it's a different story across the country. Last week in Miami, a record number of TSA workers called in sick forcing a terminal to shut down. Staffing shortages also forced a terminal at Houston's airport to close over the weekend.

At MSP Friday, members of the union representing air traffic controllers passed out flyers to passengers, urging them to speak up and contact elected officials to help break the gridlock in Washington. There are 515 air traffic controllers and other aviation employees with the union across Minnesota being forced to work without pay.

Friday, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association also filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the shutdown.

RELATED: Airports seeing rise in security screeners calling off work

But among all the uncertainty, there are gestures of goodwill coming from unexpected places. Canadian air traffic controllers from Winnipeg surprised Twin Cities air traffic controllers with a pizza dinner Friday. That's the same day many missed their first paychecks.

"In fact, the Canadian controllers sent pizza to 49 other controller locations across the United States," Walsh said.

And closer to home, students from Robert Boeckman Middle School in Farmington sent a fleet of paper airplanes to neighboring Minneapolis Control where many controllers are based– with messages of gratitude for the work controllers do keeping the skies safe.

"It couldn't have come at a better time it was a real pick me up. People loved it," Walsh said.

Some passengers have also taken it upon themselves to give gift cards and other small thank-yous to TSA workers as they pass through security checkpoints. Officials say that's ok, but employees are not allowed to accept cash.

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Matt Belanger

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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