Air traffic controllers ask SFO, OAK passengers for help as thousands work without pay

Air traffic controllers are handing out leaflets to passengers at SFO and Oakland International airports, asking them to contact their local representatives and urge an end to the government shutdown.

Juan Serna-Spuler, Vice President at SFO Tower with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the shutdown has forced more than 10,000 controllers across the country to work without pay. He said staffing is already at a 30-year low, hiring has been suspended, important projects are on hold, and at least one supervisor in the Bay Area has resigned. Roughly 3,000 NATCA-represented FAA safety professionals are furloughed, including specialists who provided tactical, strategic, and administrative support. 

“We're out here educating the flying public of how the shutdown is affecting the national air space system,” Serna-Spuler said. “We're hoping enough people will feel compelled to reach their members of Congress and ask them to end the shutdown.”

Now on day 33, federal employees are approaching their second missed paycheck if the government doesn’t reopen soon. Passengers said they feel for those impacted.

“I'm kind of fed up with both the democratic and republican side, who's going to blink first. It's ridiculous,” Ben Martin, a traveler from Texas, said. “They need to start putting their differences aside and start working for all of us in this country.”

Support has been pouring in for federal workers in the form of donations and discounts. At SFO, all vendors are offering a 50% discount on any purchase for government workers. SFO will host an all day luncheon for those employees on Friday.

On Wednesday, TSA received boxes of fruits and vegetables from a company called The Fruit Guys, according to Tom Nagy, Assistant Federal Security Director at SFO.

“Donations of pizza, bagels, donuts is very much appreciated, however this is a much welcome break to get actual fresh fruits and fresh veggies for the employees and their families,” Nagy said. “We have families with both the husband and wife working for TSA for us so they’re trying to figure out how to make it.”

As families are left struggling to make ends meet, the controllers said they would continue to reach out to the public before their work shifts until the government shutdown ends.

“I've been in this agency for 15 years. This is my third or fourth shutdown and this is certainly this is the first where I've not received a paycheck,” Serna-Spuler added. “At some point I figured they'd come to an agreement and figure this out, but here we are.”