Metro

For some, government shutdown means working without promise of paycheck

Facing regular monthly expenses and now her dog’s operation, Rita Silva-Martins fears she won’t be paid.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
Rita Silva-Martins and her dog, Mochi. Silva-Martins fears she won’t be paid.

NATICK — For Rita Silva-Martins, the federal government isn’t shut down at all. The day starts at 1:30 every morning for the Transportation Security Administration security officer.

That’s the time Silva-Martins, 34, a married mother of three from Natick, wakes to ready for her job at Logan Airport to work the 3:30 a.m.–to-noon shift.

But because federal funding for the TSA lapsed on Dec. 22, her paycheck is in danger. And unless a deal is brokered soon to reopen the government, her finances and her own experience of the American dream are on a collision course with President Trump’s fight for $5 billion to build a wall on the southern border.

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“I don’t support the shutdown,” Silva-Martins said Thursday in an interview at her home. “I can’t go a week without pay.”

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Silva-Martins’s story is a little more complicated than some. A native of Brazil, Silva-Martins is among the 1,083,069 Massachusetts residents who backed Trump in the 2016 election.

In 1989, Silva-Martins said, her father was arrested crossing the southern border and detained for months.

After his release, she said, her father moved to Framingham, married an American woman, and became a US citizen, paving the way for Silva-Martins to immigrate to the United States with a green card more than two decades ago.

As one of the approximately 420,000 federal employees ordered to work without pay during the shutdown, Silva-Martins said she holds onto hope with each shift that Trump and Congress will make a deal quickly.

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Her earnings have already taken a hit. Her most recent paycheck, issued last month, withheld wages for 14½ hours, according to an electronic pay stub she shared with the Globe. Her next paycheck is due to be deposited in her bank account on Saturday and covers hours she worked between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5. She said she earns $19 hourly.

If she is paid, Silva-Martins estimated her earnings would be $1,300 to $1,500, including hours she worked on Christmas and New Year’s Day screening passengers leaving Logan on JetBlue Airways.

She said she needs to pay monthly bills, including a mortgage payment and preschool tuition for her youngest daughter. And Mochi, the family’s 4-year-old shih tzu, is scheduled for surgery Wednesday to treat bladder stones, Silva-Martins said.

On Monday, her husband, who works full time at a car dealership, plans to start a part-time job detailing cars to earn extra money. Silva-Martins said she also established a fund-raising page on GoFundMe.

“I am going into work with the hopes that I will get paid,” she said. “I have to try to ride it out.”

“I don’t support the shutdown,” Silva-Martins said. “I can’t go a week without pay.”
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
“I don’t support the shutdown,” Silva-Martins said. “I can’t go a week without pay.”
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Mike Gayzagian, acting president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2617, which represents TSA workers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, said his colleagues can’t afford to miss paychecks.

“We come to work every day — our line of work is airport security, it has nothing to do with border security,” Gayzagian said Thursday in a phone interview. “We’re caught in the middle of this political fight and it’s not our fight. People feel disrespected and frustrated.”

Union members are expected to gather Friday in Post Office Square in Boston at a rally where they will call for the shutdown to end.

Gayzagian said the union needs the public’s help in persuading Trump and Congress to resolve their impasse.

“We’re federal employees. We’re supposed to be politically neutral,” said Gayzagian, who has worked for TSA for more than a decade. “We are trying to get the public more involved and get them to understand they’re the ones who need to put the pressure on the Congress to make a deal.”

Silva-Martins said she began working for TSA in November 2017 after spending 15 years cleaning homes and businesses. The job was a chance for good benefits and steady employment, and had the potential to open doors to positions with US Customs and Border Protection or US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where Silva-Martins said her knowledge of Portuguese and Spanish would be an asset.

Being a transportation security officer, she said, is fulfilling.

“I do love the interaction with the passengers,” Silva-Martins said. “I treat them with the utmost respect.”

She said she doesn’t regret voting for Trump, and shares some of his concerns about immigration and security. After spending some of her childhood in a part of Brazil prone to violence, Silva-Martins said, she cherishes the safety she enjoys in Natick. Migrants seeking to cross the southern border, she said, are also preyed upon by smugglers who charge thousands of dollars for their services.

But she isn’t convinced a border wall will keep the country safer and opposed Trump’s ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries.

“There is a sense of needing security, but is the wall going to do it?” Silva-Martins asked. “I’m not so sure.”

She said she also worries the current immigration system is making it more difficult for working people like herself to prosper.

“We just keep bringing people in and bringing people in,” Silva-Martins said. “What about me? [I] go into work and have to provide for my family.”

On Thursday night, a solution to take away Silva-Martins’s fears remained elusive. Her plan was to wake up before dawn and report to work at 3:30 Friday morning.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.