Short-term deal is 'not enough time' for airports to recover from shutdown damage: Union president

Key Points
  • The three-week funding deal won't mitigate a transportation system that "was brought to the edge of the cliff," transport union President John Samuelsen says.
  • About 1,800 TSA workers have quit since during the duration of the 35-day partial shutdown, he says.
  • "We were spiraling to a point where the threshold over what's safe and not safe was going to quickly be crossed," he says.
Air traffic safety was "on the brink" due to the government shutdown, says TWU president

America's transportation system "was brought right to the edge of the cliff" and a short-term funding measure won't reverse pain caused by the longest government funding gap in U.S. history, Transport Workers Union of America International President John Samuelsen told CNBC Friday.

"This is a welcome reprieve," he said on "Closing Bell." But "three weeks is not enough time for this system to recover from the damage that was done to it," he added.

About 1,800 TSA screeners across the country, he said, have quit their jobs in the span of the 35-day partial shutdown. The stopgap left nine federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, unfunded and 800,000 federal workers without paychecks.

Samuelsen's organization represents nearly 140,000 workers in the airline, railroad, transit and other industries.

"We were spiraling to a point where the threshold over what's safe and not safe was going to quickly be crossed," he said. "And in fact, over the next three weeks, we're not even out of the woods yet."

The issue reached a boiling point as flights were temporarily halted at New York's LaGuardia Airport and delayed at other major airports in the eastern part of the country.

Many federal employees were required to continue working during the dispute without pay, which left the air traffic control system in a "state of chaos" and TSA workers in a "state of duress" from forced overtime, Samuelsen said. The FAA reported a "slight increase" in sick leave at stations in Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington, D.C., and the TSA also said unscheduled absences have increased.

"The two things that shouldn't be introduced into a complex transportation network are fatigue and stress, and that's all that's been introduced," he said.

Officials also must worry about government facilities overseas that require maintenance.

"FAA inspections have totally ceased and won't begin again in the next three weeks" on those foreign properties, he said.

On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump said he would sign a proposal to reopen the government for three weeks as lawmakers negotiate a permanent funding deal. The plan to reopen the government at least until Feb. 15 does not include the $5.7 billion Trump has demanded to construct a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.