NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The local representative of the union representing air traffic controllers said they perform a critical role in air transportation safety and should not be burdened with the added stress of not being paid.
Air traffic controllers are among the federal employees required to work during the partial government shutdown, which stems from the border security fight between President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress.
“Every day, at any given moment, you’re going to be asked to make a split-second decision over will this work, can this work?” said Scott Martinez, an air traffic controller at Louis Armstrong International Airport who also serves as the local representative of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
With the giant air traffic control tower at his back, Martinez commented on the job he and others do to keep air traffic moving safely.
"It's a very precise job, it's a very demanding job in that we have to stay laser focused at all times on the separation of aircrafts,” he said.
Martinez said it is a position that requires dedication and lots of flexibility.
"It’s not just demanding on our attention and the stress that the job itself involves, it’s the rotation of the hours, the shift work,” stated Martinez.
And now air traffic controllers say they have the added stress of not receiving paychecks because of the ongoing government shutdown.
"The fact that we are not getting paid, it’s a very overwhelming sentiment right now in the air traffic controller community. The added level of stress to an already stressful job, and just the sense of not knowing just makes things more difficult,” said Martinez.
It was a concern of some people who waited to catch flights out of Armstrong Airport.
"I feel for them and their families, and I know this morning we're traveling to Hawaii today, so I told my husband, are we going to make it there and back?" said Becky Bluth.
Since the shutdown, TSA has seen an increase in its agents calling in sick. They, too, are required to work without pay during the shutdown.
"Terrorists are watching and if they see our security system starting to fail in places, they're going to probably take advantage of it,” said Jack Wade, as he waited for someone arriving on a flight.
Martinez believes his colleagues will continue to show up for work as scheduled, but he said his message to the president and Congress is that the impasse should end now.
"Being used as pawns in a political game of chess is just, it’s wrong,” said Martinez.
And there are growing concerns that frustrated veteran air traffic controllers could leave the job.
"There's a large amount of controllers actually at any given moment who could retire. We are a very understaffed profession. Currently, at this facility alone, we're at 70-percent staffing,” added Martinez.
"I am sure that is not far from their minds, but I know they're professionals and they'll do their jobs as they should and know how to do, so I'm praying the good Lord will keep an eye on us today,” said Bluth.
The union has filed suit against the federal government over workers not being paid.
"As time goes on the morale just decreases just a little bit every day, and the pressure increases just a little bit every day,” Martinez said.
TSA said at Armstrong Airport, standard screening wait times at security checkpoints were between six and 18 minutes between Monday and Friday of last week.