Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Hundreds of Transportation Security Administration workers called off work sick this week after being forced to work without pay during the now 14-day partial government shutdown, union and agency officials said. Government officials called the so-called "sick-out" non-existent.
Hydrick Thomas, president of the national TSA employee union, told CNN that up to 170 employees called in sick each day this week at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Other workers were forced to cover the shifts by working extra hours. And there's been a three-fold spike in call-outs at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
"This will definitely affect the flying public who we [are] sworn to protect," he said.
The TSA falls under the Department of Homeland Security, one of several federal departments that have been without funding since Dec. 21 when a stopgap spending bill expired.
DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton denounced the CNN report in a tweet Friday evening.
"More #FakeNews from @CNN. Security operations at airports have not been impacted by a non-existent sick out," he said. "CNN has the cell numbers of multiple @TSA public affairs professionals, but rather than validate statistics, they grossly misrepresented them."
The shutdown impasse centers around more than $5 billion President Donald Trump wants to fund a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The House and Senate passed a new stopgap funding bill without the funding he sought by Dec. 21, but the president refused to sign the legislation.
The newly Democrat-controlled House is refusing to add the funding into its legislation.
The shutdown has left 800,000 federal employees on furlough or working without pay. TSA employees fall in the latter category because they are considered essential. The workers likely will go without their first paycheck this weekend.
Trump met twice with Democratic leadership at the White House this week, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement to reopen the government. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the president told them Friday he's prepared for the shutdown to last months or years.
Trump planned to meet with congressional leaders at 11 a.m. Saturday for more negotiations.
"The Democrats could solve the Shutdown problem in a very short period of time. All they have to do is approve REAL Border Security (including a Wall), something which everyone, other than drug dealers, human traffickers and criminals, want very badly! This would be so easy to do!" the president tweeted early Saturday morning.
A federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The New York Times the TSA call-outs appeared to be a coordinated protest against the shutdown.
Another official, TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said officers taking sick days around the holidays and during the flu season was not abnormal.
"Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change," he told the Times. "TSA is grateful to the agents who show up to work, remain focused on the mission and respectful to the traveling public as they continue the important work necessary to secure the nation's transportation systems."
The TSA posted a statement on Twitter Friday saying the call-outs were having "minimal impact." The agency said that of the 2.2 million passengers screened Thursday, 99.8 percent waited less than 30 minutes.