'I'm serving my country': TSA remains staffed at MSP airport despite government shutdown

The Transportation Security Administration is seeing a higher rate of unscheduled absences nationwide compared to a year ago as TSA agents continue to work without pay during the government shutdown.

However, TSA checkpoints inside the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport are still running smoothly. The security zones were fully staffed inside the two terminals Wednesday afternoon with hardly any wait time as passengers had bags screened.

“It is unique here,” said Cliff Van Leuven, the TSA federal security director for Minnesota. “Our employees are showing up for work. If you see any lines like on Saturday morning, it’s going to be busy because people are heading south—that’s not because officers are calling in sick—they’re coming into work.”

Among them, is Salat Tuke, who has been a TSA agent for a year.

“I’m serving my country, so I’m proud every time I’m showing up here, even though I’m not getting paid—I’m doing the right thing,” said Tuke.

Amid the shutdown, he's struggling to come up with money for rent, a car payment and his children's daycare. Not only does Tuke come to work each day, but on his free time he donated food to serve to fellow co-workers as a gesture that they're not in this alone.

“I’m a Muslim and we are commanded to give charity,” said Tuke. “That’s part of the charity—I’m not getting paid, but also helping those in need, but at the same time in my faith, I’m supposed to help those in need as well.”

On top of not getting paychecks, TSA agents and other employees who work more than 32 hours are not eligible for unemployment benefits because Minnesota law prohibits it.

Fox 9 has learned the TSA and other high-ranking officials within the Department of Homeland Security are aware of this problem, but admit there is nothing they can do about it right now.

Many travelers are expected to take advantage of the long weekend with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday. The government shutdown is putting additional stresses on the TSA staff at MSP, who are already down about 40 positions. That's why there will be a fast track job fair this weekend to hire and train folks as soon as possible.

“Obviously the shutdown is not optimal,” said Van Leuven. “None of us are getting paid right now, but we are trying to build the workforce population up for what’s going to be a very busy spring break again and then we have the Final Four here in April. Then, there’s a very brief hiatus before it’s summer.”

Anyone can show up between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday at the TSA administrative offices in Bloomington. It's a way for people to meet with someone face-to-face rather than apply online.