San Diego

‘Stop the Shutdown': Air Traffic Controller's Family Feels Effects of Lasting Shutdown

A San Diego air traffic controller working without pay as the government shutdown stretched into its fourth week is asking the government to consider families that rely on those paychecks for food, gas and their families' health. 

Tyler Kennard got his start in air traffic control as a U.S. Marine when he was based at Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton in 2005. During his nearly decade and a half in the profession, he has been through three other government shutdowns but missed his first paycheck during the most recent. 

"This is the one that’s hit us the hardest 'cause this is the first time where it’s gone where we haven’t got paid," he said.

"The last shutdowns we've gotten paid on time; granted we were working those first two weeks without getting paid but the government opened back and we got paid in time."

Kennard and his wife, Becky, have three kids. As the shutdown stretches into its 26th day, the couple is worried about how they'll pay for gas, mortgage, their daughter's braces and their four-year-old son Tucker's hospital visits.

Tucker was diagnosed at six months old with an immune deficiency disorder that sent him to the hospital for months, amounting in bills that they are still paying for, Becky Kennard said.

Tucker must be admitted to the hospital every three weeks for two days to receive treatment and while their insurance covers most, Becky Kennard said they have out-of-pocket co-pay costs to think about. 

But Becky Kennard remembers that hers is just one of many real families affected by the shutdown. 

"People are looking at it as a political issue but people also need to look at it as, we're a real family and we're one of thousands -- not just in San Diego County but all over the U.S. -- that are scared and don’t know what to do," she said. "And if this doesn’t stop it's not just going to be us."

When Tyler Kennard is not working without pay he says he is wrapped up in the news, frustrated by the ins and outs of the decision making. But he said his group is professional and made a commitment to protecting people's safety. 

"We're not going to be calling in sick, we're not going to be doing any of that stuff; we're going to go do our job and ensure the safety of the flying public." 

The FAA’s air traffic controllers are among the 420,000 federal employees who have been deemed essential and ordered to work without pay.

The shutdown began on Dec. 22 after President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress could not agree over funding for a wall along the U.S. southern border.

On Friday and intermittently until the shutdown ends, a group of air traffic controllers will be handing out flyers at the San Diego International Airport to inform travelers about what they do and how travelers may be indirectly affected by the shutdown.

Air traffic controllers, represented by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), have begun to do the same at the Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Raleigh-Durham airports, among several others, according to the group. 

NATCA filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration last Friday on behalf of their members over their frozen pay. The suit alleges the government "unlawfully deprived" thousands of its members of pay "without due process."

Tyler Kennard also urged people to write letters to their elected representatives in support of the thousands of furloughed workers. 

"As a whole, they need to come together and end the shutdown. It's embarrassing for our country," he said. 

Meanwhile, Tyler and Becky Kennard will continue to save room on their credit cards for gas and bills in anticipation for at least a few more days of government shutdown. 

"There’s not much we can do other than get the word out and stop the shutdown -- today if possible, tomorrow if possible," Becky Kennard said. "I mean, just literally as soon as possible."

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