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Over free lunch, Cleveland TSA workers express relief at end of government shutdown

January 25, 2019

Over free lunch, Cleveland TSA workers express relief at end of government shutdown

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Italian calzones – with a heaping side of relief – were served to TSA workers at Cleveland Hopkins airport on Friday, as word came that the longest government shutdown in history was over.

The news was greeted with relief from federal workers, along with some cynicism.

“We might be in the same exact spot three weeks from now,” said one Transportation Security Administration agent, referring to President Trump’s decision to reopen the government for three weeks while budget negotiations continue. “Don’t buy anything big,” said another. The agents declined to give their names.

There was no cynicism, however, about the outpouring of support they have received from the community.

Federal agents at the airport on Friday enjoyed three complimentary meals at work, courtesy of Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Swissport, a company that provides contract services to the carriers.

Related: Trump, Congress leaders reach deal to end shutdown

Every day for the past two weeks, the businesses at Cleveland Hopkins – including the airport, the airlines, restaurants and other vendors – have organized a food drive of sorts for the unpaid federal agents, providing complimentary meals for all three shifts on most days.

“We’re not getting paid, but we are gaining weight,” joked one TSA agent.

Another commented on the remarkable generosity he has experienced in the past four weeks at work: “So many people have stopped to say ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry you have to go through this.’ It’s been truly remarkable to witness. It’s an effort of good will that I’ve never seen in my life.”

Falesha Maroney, Spirit’s assistant manager in Cleveland, helped coordinate Friday’s spread, which included calzones, soup and salad from Chuppa’s Marketplace in Parma, which discounted its prices.

Maroney is particularly sympathetic to the unpaid workers. Her husband, an air traffic controller at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Oberlin, is one. “It’s been rough,” she said. “Luckily, we have my income coming in.”

One young Cleveland TSA agent, going through her first government shutdown, said she had learned a valuable lesson during over past month.

“I felt like I was being held hostage,” said the agent, age 25. “It’s a life lesson – to always save money in case this happens again.”

Earlier in the day, a half-dozen Cleveland-area Federal Aviation Administration employees gathered at the airport to put pressure on leaders in Washington to end the shutdown.

“Every day the shutdown goes on, another layer of safety is slipping away,” said James Norton, president of the Ohio chapter of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, which represents about 300 FAA workers at air traffic control centers throughout the state. Among their ranks: safety inspectors, systems specialists, aircraft maintenance employees and others.

“This is not a small job to do,” he said. “It’s even more difficult to do when you’re focused on not getting paid.” Hours later, the shutdown was over.

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