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What It's Like For The Unpaid TSA Agents Still Working At LAX

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers work unpaid on the first day of the US government shutdown, at LAX Airport in Los Angeles, California on December 22, 2018. (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Rosa Guzman has worked as a TSA officer at Los Angeles International Airport for four-and-a-half years but last Friday was the first time she came home without a paycheck.

Like most of the approximately 50,000 TSA officers in the United States -- nearly 2,000 of whom work at LAX -- she has continued to show up at her job, as the law mandates, despite the federal government shutdown.

At more than three weeks, it is now the longest such shutdown in U.S. history.

"We're trying to hang in there," Guzman says. "We're trying to be supportive of each other. We're appreciative of the passengers that thank us. It means a lot when someone tells us 'Thank you for coming to work.' It's pretty emotional."

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Along with other TSA agents and representatives from the American Federation of Government Employees, Guzman, the executive secretary for the union's Local 1260, will be at LAX for a press conference today to show support for beleaguered government staffers.

Guzman received her last paycheck in December, and that means she has had to make cuts financially.

"We're also dealing with struggles at home, not being able to pay our bills. We have to cut back on the fun stuff. We have kids. We have families, so it's been difficult," she says.

There have been reports, at various airports, that TSA screeners have been calling in sick en masse, reportedly so they can work other jobs, like driving for Lyft or Uber.

TSA employees, who are currently working without pay, screen passengers during the partial shutdown of the U.S. government, at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, on January 14, 2019. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Where Guzman works in LAX's Terminal 2, a Delta Airlines hub that also services Aeromexico and Southwest's international flights, she says she hasn't seen staff shortages.

"I do hear around, you know, from other employees that other terminals might be lacking help but I haven't seen it for myself," she says.

Ryan Mims, a representative for AFGE, believes the federal government shutdown is putting travelers at risk.

"When you take employees who already work in a high-stress environment and you make their job additionally even more stressful, I think that, obviously, will make everybody less safe," Mims says. "And then if you have people who have to resign or have to quit in order to go find a job where they can take care of their family, then you're losing experience and all the training that went into making them good transportation security officers, and that does ultimately affect security."

How long can TSA agents continue working without paychecks? It depends on the individual. Some people have savings while others live paycheck to paycheck. Some people have a partner who can support them; others don't.

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"We can't go on with this for much longer," Guzman says. "It's just going to come to a point where okay, I need to look for another job because I need money."

Passengers wait in a Transportation Security Administration line at JFK airport on January 9, 2019 in New York City. It has been reported that hundreds of TSA screeners and agents have called in sick from their shifts from a number of major airports as the partial government shutdown continues. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)