Try 3 months for $3

You do the work, you get paid for the work.

It’s so fundamental a concept — the reasoning behind one person telling another to get a job — that we take it for granted. Getting paid is the whole point of having a job; volunteer work is done for free.

The top officials of the federal Transportation Safety Administration seem to need reminding that TSA employees don’t show up at our airports to work for free.

More than 1,000 TSA employees are still waiting to be paid in full for work done without pay during the government shutdown, CNN.com reported Friday. The exact number is unclear as employees continue to come forward with complaints that they are still owed money from the shutdown.

The delay has been caused in part by a decision during the shutdown to distribute a partial paycheck to workers to keep them on the job. TSA Administrator David Pekoske told employees the decision was to “alleviate some of the financial hardship many of you are facing.” Hundreds of TSA workers called out from work during the shutdown and officials from the national TSA employee union said many of the callouts were due to financial hardship.

In other words, some TSA employees couldn’t show up for a shift at the airport because they had to report to a temporary job they had picked up to make money during the shutdown, which lasted from Dec. 22 until Jan. 25.

Why hasn’t TSA made the 1,000 employees whole on their pay? The partial paycheck, having been distributed at the end of 2018, which is the end of the federal government fiscal year, appears to be the problem.

“If I give you a partial payment, I can’t pay you more than you work,” the first source explained. “They need to go back and match what was worked and that all has to be done manually to make sure the difference owed to employees is accurate.”

“It appears as though their effort to partially pay people screwed things up and they are still getting their act together,” another CNN source said.

When people complain about government bureaucracy, this is the kind of foul-up they have in mind.

The median TSA salary is less than $41,000, according to 2017 data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These are people more than likely living paycheck to paycheck, so their ability to “take out a short-term loan and pay it off when the shutdown” ended, and to handle the interest payments such a loan would entail, isn’t quite that of federal Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose net worth is estimated at $860 million. (The short-term loan was Ross’ suggestion on Jan. 24.)

As we mentioned above, a salary of $41,000 isn’t what it used to be. If you find yourself thinking that $41,000 a year should be enough to withstand a month of not getting paid, consider that most TSA employees live in metropolitan areas, cities where the cost of living in general, and monthly rent in particular, are higher than in most parts of Racine County.

But questioning whether TSA workers should have had a rainy day fund is secondary to the larger issue: They did the work.

Pay them what they are owed. Today.

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