In good faith: McAllen offers appreciation meals to unpaid TSA agents

Ezequiel Rodriguez Jr. Transportation Security Agent, takes a soda along with a plate of pasta during TSA appreciation day at McAllen Miller international Airport on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

McALLEN — The morning after President Trump landed here, federal agents at the McAllen airport walked into a roped off area in the lobby during their early shift.

“Is this for us?” one Transportation Security Administration agent said of the tacos, fruit, coffee and pastries.

“Oh yeah, it’s all for you guys,” McAllen Aviation Director Elizabeth Suarez said. The agent quickly gathered an assortment and took a seat at one of the arranged tables.

The partial government shutdown was on the eve of entering its fourth week on Friday, and it also happened to be the same day an estimated 800,000 federal employees did not receive a paycheck, including these TSA agents.

Morale has suffered at federal agencies across the country, which even led to the Miami airport closing one of its terminals because of a TSA staff shortage.

This hasn’t been the case in McAllen, where morale has mostly remained high, and there haven’t been instances of agents calling in sick or skipping shifts, Suarez said. Additionally, the airport on Thursday had to deal with closed airspace because of the president’s tour, and the security chaos surrounding an executive visit.

Suarez wanted to show appreciation for the TSA agents in McAllen, so she arranged a breakfast for them on Friday.

“During shutdown mode, we understand it affects morale,” Suarez said in an interview. “You hear all these stories of agents not showing up. Fortunately we haven’t had that here. We have a great relationship with TSA, and being a bit of a smaller airport probably helps with that. So we just wanted to show we support them.”

The government shutdown over border wall funding to address what Trump has called a humanitarian and national security crisis does not seem to have an end in sight. There are concerns if this goes on for much longer, that airports could feel the effects.

“As government officials, we learn to work through challenges,” Suarez said.

Federal employees around the country have talked about fears of paying mortgages, utilities and revamping their personal budgets. The city of McAllen is hoping a free meal on Friday might help a bit.

“If you’re low on cash, this isn’t a bad deal,” Suarez said.