Finally, it’s payday

LIHUE — Transportation Security Agency employees on Kauai were paid for the first time in 2019 on Wednesday, five days after President Donald Trump agreed to end the 35-day shutdown of the federal government.

The paycheck includes the majority of back pay owed to the TSA workers, covering the last week in December and the first two weeks of January. Holiday and overtime pay is expected to be added to their next paycheck.

The Garden Island spoke with three TSA workers on the island about the back pay and how they are coping, as the threat of another government shutdown looms about two weeks away.

“Everybody’s on this roller coaster right now,” said Christina Gaines, a TSA screener at the Lihue Airport. “That’s the hardest part. We’re playing catch-up and we’re not caught up.”

Gaines said she and her coworkers are happy to finally get some of the money owed to them, but many are still struggling under the financial strain imposed by the shutdown.

In addition to money concerns, Gaines said TSA workers have to worry about what will happen if the government shuts down once again on Feb. 15 if President Trump and federal legislators are unable to resolve their dispute over funding for a border wall.

Gaines explained that TSA screeners have an important job to do, one that is already difficult enough without the added stressors of not receiving regular pay.

“Stress is a very real thing,” she said. “On top of looking for bombs.”

Another TSA worker, Jennifer Bartolome, is still waiting for the money to show up. She said she can see the paycheck scheduled in electronic personal page at work but had not seen any change in her bank balance by early Wednesday afternoon.

And even if she does get paid today, her financial troubles are far from resolved.

“I’m sort of relieved,” Bartolome said. “But everything is still kind of up in the air.”

Bartolome said she took out a loan last week to cover monthly expenses. She wants to pay it back as soon as possible to avoid fees or interest, but with another lapse in pay potentially on its way, she remains in limbo.

“Me and my coworkers are just being frugal right now,” she said.

Christian Ogawa also works for the TSA at Lihue Airport and said Wednesday that the back pay is hardly cause for celebration.

“I’m happy, but I’m kind of hesitant,” he said. “The 15th is coming just around the corner.”

Ogawa said he is already looking ahead to next month, expecting the government shutdown to resume in February, leaving him and his coworkers once again at work with no pay.

“I’m trying to prepare as best I can,” he said. “Because it doesn’t look too bright.”

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

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