TSA union president Hydrick Thomas told CNN around 170 employees had called in sick every day of the past week from JFK International Airport, forcing the remaining employees to work overtime - and still for no pay.
Officers from a morning shift were reportedly required to work extra hours to make up for the loss of workers.
"CNN spoke to numerous TSA & union officials & cited data provided by unions for our report".
Shortly after the story was published, DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton lashed out at the story, calling it "fake news" and saying the statistics were "grossly misrepresented". Security operations at airports have not been impacted by a non-existent sick out. "To date the [checkpoint] wait times remain within TSA standards".
Similarly, call-outs increased by 200-300% at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
But union officials insisted that many of those calling out sick are just taking backup jobs so they can pay their bills; others can no longer afford child care and are forced to stay home with the kids. Some 55,000 TSA employees who screen around 800 million passengers a year are considered essential and are among the 420,000 federal workers expected to continue working without pay.
Katie DenDaas ABC News
North Carolina airports, including Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, have experienced 10% higher TSA call outs, according to Mac Johnson, the local union president.
"Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change", Bilello said on Twitter.
Still, wait times at the airport never exceeded 25 minutes, he added, precheck travelers never waited longer than 8 minutes.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske recently urged President Trump to keep Nielsen despite reports that the president had grown frustrated with her leadership.
There are 51,739 members of the Transportation Security Administration's airport security screening workforce, according to TSA spokesman Michael Bilello. The workers likely will go without their first paycheck this weekend.
CNN said the mass call outs could lead to less secure air travel as the shutdown continues into its second week with no clear end in sight. TSA said in a statement that it is "closely monitoring the situation". At Dallas-Fort Worth International, the wait time was slightly longer than in NY but still within TSA standards. For security reasons, the agency doesn't release specific staffing numbers.
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