A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer at Orlando International Airport jumped to his death from a balcony inside the main terminal Saturday, in a suicide some said they believe is linked to the monthlong federal government shutdown.
The Orlando Police Department has not publicly identified the individual, but described him as a male in his 40s. The department ruled it an “isolated incident” and an “apparent suicide.”
The agent’s death is the latest blow to TSA workers, many of whom worked for 35 days without pay after the holidays due to the partial federal government shutdown. While it isn’t known what motivated the TSA agent to fall to his death, many have suggested it was due to the stress of the shutdown.
Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), who represents the Orlando area in Congress, wrote on Twitter Saturday, “TSA Officers have already suffered so much during the #Government Shutdown. This apparent suicide only adds to tragedy experienced at Orlando Int’l.”
Our @TSA Officers have already suffered so much during the #GovernmentShutdown. This apparent suicide only adds to tragedy experienced at Orlando Int’l. Our prayers go out to his family and coworkers after this difficult loss. https://t.co/qxrK1UraLd
— US Rep. Darren Soto (@RepDarrenSoto) February 2, 2019
The president of American Federation of Government Employees of TSA Local 556 has also suggested the government shutdown may have played a role in his death.
“I spoke to him a week or so ago, and I asked him how it’s going, and he said, ‘Not so good,’ and I said, ‘Well, if you want someone to talk to, give me a call,'” Deborah Hanna, president of the union, told WESH 2 News.
“It’s very stressful, and I don’t think that people actually understand what we do on a day-to-day basis […] I told my officers, and I did it myself, you pay what you need to pay and try to put some money aside, because we all feel we’re going to be right back in that same place.”
TSA workers were some of the hardest hit by the partial federal government shutdown, which was finally brought to an end last week after 35 days. During that time they were forced to work without pay. Because federal employees are legally barred from striking, many TSA officers called out sick and quit, either in protest or out of necessity. Almost 80 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.
“Listen, I love my job and I have been willing to work for free as people in Washington sort everything out,” an anonymous TSA worker told The Daily Beast in early January.
“But how long is this going to take? I have a newborn,” he said. “I can barely afford to miss this pay period. I don’t want to lose my job but I also don’t want to lose my apartment, you know?”
TSA was able to cobble together funds from last year’s budget to pay its screeners one week of back pay to cover the Dec. 23 through Jan. 5 pay period.