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United Airlines pilots picketed on Thursday, May 25, 2023, in front of the Ritz Carlton in downtown Denver. As members of the Air Line Pilots Association's United Master Executive Council, pilots are asking for competitive wage increases and for more control of their schedules. Many complain that they're being asked to work even on their scheduled days off. (David Witwer for the United Pilots Division of the Air Line Pilots Association)

As the summer travel season took off this week, a couple dozen United Airlines pilots spent their lunch hour Thursday picketing outside the Ritz-Carlton in downtown Denver. 

United’s board of directors were meeting inside. And the pilots, in full uniform, wanted to remind board members that negotiations for a new contract have been going on for nearly five years. 

“We would certainly rather be picnicking,” said Capt. Garth Thompson, chair of the United Pilots Division of the Air Line Pilots Association. “We’ve been negotiating for five years on this contract and the pilots are frustrated and growing impatient with the lack of progress at the table.”

With U.S. government COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the summer travel season isn’t getting a break. Pilots at other major airlines are also negotiating new contracts, while a shortage of air traffic controllers nationwide could add to unexpected delays and cancellations for travelers. And while airline fares shot up last year as consumer travel returned, prices have continued to increase this spring.

United’s pilots are asking for a pay raise, but better working conditions are more important. Work-life balance became a rallying cry for many workers during the pandemic. The demand for improved health and safety conditions was a priority for King Soopers, Starbucks and other frontline workers negotiating new contracts or voting to unionize. 

The pilots, members of ALPA’s United Master Executive Council, are tired of being forced to work on their scheduled days off, Thompson said. 

“What we are trying to do is make more things voluntary and incentivized (to) mitigate the instances of pilots being involuntarily reassigned on their days off, or made to work when they have a doctor’s appointment or a kid’s event that they’d scheduled their work around,” he said.

United offered an 18% pay increase, which includes a 5% raise that began in December. But he said that raise stems from an agreement pilots made in September 2020 to lower their monthly pay in order to give the company more flexibility to respond when travel ramped back up.

“We paid for that 5% with previous sacrifices,” said Thompson, saying United’s offer is more like 13%.

United Airlines pilots picketed on Thursday, May 25, 2023, in front of the Ritz Carlton in downtown Denver. The pilot’s union has been negotiating with company management for nearly five years. A priority for pilots: Better work-life balance. (David Witwer for the United Pilots Division of the Air Line Pilots Association)

Pilots at other major U.S. airlines have also been negotiating new contracts this year. In recent weeks, unions representing Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and FedEx have voted to authorize strikes. A week earlier, American Airlines pilots reached a preliminary agreement on a new four-year contract that includes 21% pay raises. Delta pilots approved a new contract with a 34% increase in pay in March. 

United pilots haven’t authorized a strike, though some signs at Thursday’s picket hinted at one. “Don’t force us to strike,” some signs said. 

United Airlines spokesman Russ Carlton said in a statement:  “We’re continuing to work with the Air Line Pilots Association on the industry-leading deal we have put on the table for our world-class pilots.”

➔ Earlier: Air traffic controller staffing shortages add to potential travel delays as summer season starts. >> Read

Hiring frenzy

Two days earlier, United unveiled more details about its ongoing $1 billion expansion at Denver International Airport. It includes adding a dozen new gates; new routes to cities like San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the hiring of 2,300 more workers locally. 

“We’ve hired at least 850 airport operations employees, including ramp and customer service agents, so far this year,” Carlton said. “It’s due to the growth and the focus we have here and our investment in Denver.”

One of the biggest needs for workers at United Airlines has been ramp workers who load and unload luggage on airplanes. Bonuses were offered and pay raises. Starting wages are now at $19.64 an hour. During the job fair on Mar. 29, United made more than 100 offers to potential applicants. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

It’s also part of a global plan to add 15,000 new hires this year. So far, 7,000 of those jobs have been filled. The company has seen a 25% increase in traffic to its job site, at, compared to the end of 2022.

Last year, the company had three job fairs in Denver, attracting 1,000 people. It made 400 offers. Its subsidiary, United Ground Express, had another job fair in April, to find workers to clean planes between flights, provide customer service and load luggage on baggage ramps. 

Carlton said they are finding workers because a lot has changed, even in just the past year. “Remote work was all the rage. That was just a year ago. Now, if we look at the headlines, companies are pulling away and going more hybrid or back to the office,” he said. “We’re finding (workers) here but we’re still trying to be agile. We’re doing community partnerships, like with students at Denver Public Schools. This could be a post high school opportunity. This could be an option and then go to college.”

United Airlines aircraft at Denver International Airport on April 27, 2022. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Entry level jobs start at around $20 an hour and are open to all ages, including older workers. Carlton said on the employee bus recently, he met a newer flight attendant who’d retired from a different career. “He liked the job that gives him flexibility.” 


It’s not just United that’s looking at new ways to attract workers. Earlier this month, DIA partnered with the Colorado Department of Corrections to launch the DEN New Heights pilot program. The airport is employing 10 people per quarter who are exiting the justice system and need a job as they transition back to a regular life. They work in areas outside of the airport’s secure zones on jobs like landscaping, minor road repairs, snow removal and trash cleanup. 

>> Openings at DIA, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines 

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Colorado and the debt ceiling countdown

A compromise on increasing U.S. debt limits could be struck by the time you read this. As of midday Friday, The Associated Press reported that House negotiators “are making progress” and President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, “are straining to strike a budget compromise by this weekend.” If the two find consensus, the plan would still need approval from the full House and Senate.

For those catching up, the U.S. is ready to bust the $31 trillion debt limit if negotiations don’t resolve the issue by the June 1 deadline. Otherwise, the U.S. may start running out of cash to pay its bills and “face an unprecedented default hurling the global economy into chaos,” according to AP. On Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S Treasury Department will run out of money on June 5.

[Update: A preliminary agreement was made between Biden and McCarthy on May 27, 2023. See the Associated Press report.]

Here in Colorado, there would be fallout if the government stops paying its bills.

“Imagine all government employees not getting paychecks. Likely that would instantly cause a recession,” said Joe Craig, chair of the Department of Economics at University of Colorado Colorado Springs. “What shocks me is that more people aren’t upset with all the politicians involved for letting it get this late. Both sides are being irresponsible and engaging in brinkmanship with massive economic consequences.”

But the U.S. has never gone that far before. The ceiling has always been moved higher, sometimes at the last minute. Another Colorado economist, Gary Horvath, at, believes it will get resolved: “There is too much at stake and they will address it in some way.” 

Gov. Jared Polis at an event on April 28, 2023, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

According to the state’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, at least the state’s budget has been taken care of.

“It’s our understanding that dollars already allocated to the states are not being considered for clawback. Colorado has budgeted 100% of its (Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds) dollars and is following all federal guidelines regarding funding provided directly to agencies from the U.S. Treasury,” said Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat. 

But, Cahill added, “Coloradans don’t deserve to have their hard work and economic security devastated by petty dysfunction in Washington. Congressional Republicans must stop squabbling and come to a swift resolution on the debt ceiling.”


Other working bits

The entrance to Broadcom’s Fort Collins office. (Google Maps)

➔ Apple’s new deal with Broadcom means more investment in Fort Collins. Apple tapped chipmaker Broadcom this week to manufacture 5G radio frequency components in the United States — including at a facility in Fort Collins — but the two were already doing just that in Fort Collins. 

The state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade wasn’t involved but Dan Salvetti, OEDIT’s semiconductor industry manager, added that this “demonstrates the existing strength of our semiconductor and advanced technology sectors, and we look forward to future growth in this important Colorado industry.” 

Gov. Polis signed House Bill 1260 on May 20 to modify existing state tax incentives to benefit advanced manufacturers. This will allow qualified companies to apply for tax credits as part of the federal Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act of 2022, or the CHIPS Act, which incentivizes chipmakers to manufacturer in the U.S. >> The Coloradoan

  • Related: “America’s Semiconductor Boom Faces a Challenge: Not Enough Workers.” >> New York Times
The Amazon fulfillment center pictured on August 29, 2019. in Thornton. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

➔ Denver-area Amazon drivers seek class-action lawsuit. Delivery expectations are so high at Amazon that some drivers can’t even stop for a bathroom break and have “pee bottles,” otherwise they’d face disciplinary actions, CPR News reports. Three current and former drivers sued the tech giant Monday in Denver District Court and claim that Amazon’s strict requirements prevented them from taking state-required rest breaks. The lawsuit seeks class-action status. >> CPR News, lawsuit 

➔ Guild cuts 12% of its staff. Denver-based Guild, which provides education opportunities to employees of its clients, said this week that it cut 172 jobs as part of a reorganization, the Denver Business Journal reported. >> DBJ, CEO message 

➔ Robocaller sued for making 148 million illegal calls to Colorado numbers. Colorado  Attorney General Phil Weiser sued Michael D. Lansky, LLC, which does business as Avid Telecom, for allegedly facilitating 7.5 billion illegal robocalls nationwide, including 148 million to Colorado numbers. Some of the calls spoofed state law enforcement agency numbers including the Boulder Police department, according to the complaint. It’s part of a multi-state lawsuit against Avid seeking damages of “not more than $1,500 per violation.” >> 9News, lawsuit

➔ Incomes are up but … The latest U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report calculated that personal incomes increased 0.4% in April from March. That increase is credited to higher compensation. Personal consumption expenditures, however, increased 0.8%. >> See the data

Thanks for sticking with me for this week’s report. As always, share your 2 cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at ~ tamara 

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Tamara writes about businesses, technology and the local economy for The Colorado Sun. She also writes the "What's Working" column, available as a free newsletter at Contact her at, or or on LinkedIn at in/gadgetress/