'You Feel Like You're Being Held Hostage': Air Traffic Controller On Working Through Shutdown05:16
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Pennsylvania Avenue leads to the U.S. Capitol seen from the Old Post Office Pavilion Clock Tower, which remains open during the partial government shutdown, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Pennsylvania Avenue leads to the U.S. Capitol seen from the Old Post Office Pavilion Clock Tower, which remains open during the partial government shutdown, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The federal government shutdown is in its 17th day with no deal in the works. The White House has requested $5.7 billion to fund President Trump's border wall and hundreds of millions of additional dollars, but talks between Vice President Pence and Congress over the weekend produced no breakthrough.

Meanwhile, thousands of federal employees continue to work full time with no pay, including Michael Metz, an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration.

“I am not a very happy camper when it comes to having to work and not know when I'm going to get paid for it,” says Metz, who works at the Albuquerque Air Route Traffic Control Center in New Mexico. “I've proceeded to talk to my family, and we've talked about what is essential, what is not essential, and we're trying to cut out anything that's nonessential.”

Metz has already called his bank to get his car payments deferred, but he says if the shutdown continues until the end of the month, he will have to try and get his mortgage payment deferred.

“You feel like you're being held hostage for someone else's political agendas,” Metz tells Here & Now’s Robin Young. “You want to just be able to go into work and do your job.”

Interview Highlights

On how he is coping with not being paid

“There was something that was put out by the FAA about how to contact your bank, and they gave us some form letters. But for the most part, being that this isn't my first go around — I've dealt with one through Bill Clinton, I've dealt through one through President Obama, I've dealt through sequestration — I have some money in the savings account, and I'm trying to make that go as long as I can.”

"It just makes it more stressful when you're at home, and you're worried about bills. You're worried about, OK, when is my next paycheck going to come? And how am I going to pay for my mortgage?"

Michael Metz

On his responsibility for public safety as an air traffic controller

“Our job is to make sure that we have the safest air space in the world. We make sure that planes get from one destination to the other as quickly as possible and as safely as possible. No matter what, we will do that. Whether we're working for no pay or whether we're doing our job and we're getting paid normally, that's our job, and that's what you get hired on to do.

“[The shutdown] doesn't affect how we do our job or what our job is. It just makes it more stressful when you're at home, and you're worried about bills. You're worried about, OK, when is my next paycheck going to come? And how am I going to pay for my mortgage? Is the mortgage company going to allow me to defer a payment?”

On Transportation Security Administration workers calling out sick at higher-than-normal numbers, and an unnamed source who told The New York Times that it could be a coordinated protest

“[TSA workers are] doing what they feel they need to do. That's not something that we would ever do as air traffic controllers. I mean, that's just wrong in my opinion. ... Again, they're doing what they need to do and what they feel they need to do, because they don't get paid a whole lot. So, are they calling in sick so that they can go get a temporary job while they're waiting for this whole thing to be resolved? I don't know. But I think that puts people at risk, and I understand their point of view. It happened during sequestration: As soon as the congressmen and the senators were completely inconvenienced, it got resolved the very next day. And I understand the thought process, but I don't agree with it.”


Jill Ryan produced this interview, and Kathleen McKenna edited it for broadcast. Jackson Cote adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on January 7, 2019.

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