NEW HAVEN, CT — Noting that Saturday will mark the longest partial government shutdown in the country’s history, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy came to Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport Friday to try and get President Donald Trump to back down.
“The president needs to reopen the government,” said Murphy, who was accompanied at the press conference by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, outgoing Tweed executive director Timothy Larson, and airway transportation specialist Dennis Amato.
“He can’t continue to use these employees as hostages,” Murphy said, referring to the fact that 30 Tweed employees are among the 800,000 federal workers who have gone without paychecks for three weeks.
“Tomorrow (Saturday) this will become the longest shutdown in the history of this country,” Murphy said. “We are grateful that we have security personnel who are continuing to work without pay.”
But, the senator added: “They need to get paid. They need to find jobs, even temporary ones, to put food on the table.”
Murphy noted that “today” or Friday was a normal payday for most federal workers.
Murphy referred to it as a “little bit of good news” that both the House and Senate have passed bills authorizing retroactive pay for all federal workers once the shutdown is ended.
The shutdown is coming down to who will blink first – Trump or Democrats in Congress. The dispute is over giving Trump $5.7 billion to build a wall to block illegal immigrants from coming into the United States from Mexico.
Larson, who will soon be leaving his position to take a position in Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration heading up the Office of Higher Education, said he’s proud that the 30 workers at Tweed haven’t done what a lot of airport workers at bigger airports across the country have done: calling in sick in increasing numbers since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.
“Why do they show up?” Larson asked. “Because they love their job. They are professional and they care.”
Amato, who has been in the airline safety business for close to three decades, said he and his colleagues are willing to work without pay “because we are dedicated employees who show up to work every day.”
But Amato said working for no money is a bit easier for a veteran employee like himself.
“I’m worried about the younger guys,” he said. “The people who have families, have bills to be paid. They’re going to have to be taking out loans.”
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp picked up on the same theme noting that many of the people that work at the small airport are residents of New Haven.
“They have mortgages and credit card payments to make,” Harp said. “They are neighbors right here in New Haven and they are caught in a desperate Washington power play.”
Murphy said besides the issue of pay there are other issues involved with the government shutdown that impacts security at airports – even small ones like Tweed.
He noted the recent incident in which a wanted man from Hamden was apprehended after he drove across the runway at Tweed.
Officers attempted to arrest the man at a Tweed car rental office but the man drove away and fled by driving through a chain link fence onto the airport runway.
Murphy said the investigation into how to probe that incident “can’t be dealt with because the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is shut down.”
The senator added that another issue that he believes hasn’t gotten enough attention due to the shutdown is food inspection.
“That worries the hell out of me as a parent,” Murphy said, noting that the Food and Drug Administration has stopped routine food safety inspections of seafood, fruits, vegetables and many other foods at high risk of contamination because of the federal government’s shutdown,
Murphy said while the impact of the shutdown hasn’t been felt at Tweed, the impact at larger airports across the country is impossible to ignore – and getting worse.
He referred to the fact that Miami International Airport plans to close one of its terminals this weekend due to staffing shortages.
A Miami airport spokesman told the Miami Herald that one of the terminals will be closed as of 1 p.m. on Saturday.
In recent days, as it has become apparent that Congress – especially the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives, is not likely to give Trump his multi-billion dollars for his wall, Trump has indicated he may divert funds from other areas, such as disaster relief accounts, to build the wall.
Murphy said that “would be opening a dangerous Pandora’s box.”
“What would stop future presidents” from doing the same thing,” he said, referring to re-directing funding toward pet projects when a president doesn’t get their way.