Pilots' union president says Berkshire cuts hurting NetJets' service

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Posted: Saturday, May 3, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 1:52 am, Tue May 20, 2014.

NetJets' customer service is suffering from cost-cutting by the Berkshire Hathaway Inc.-owned private aircraft company, the president of the union representing its pilots said.

Not true, a company spokesman said, attributing the comment to “old tactics” typical of labor negotiations.

Negotiations by the company and its unions are usually confined to NetJets' headquarters city of Columbus, Ohio.

But in Omaha on Saturday, members of the pilots union, dressed in flight uniforms, handed out red tote bags containing pro-union fliers to Berkshire shareholders in town for their annual meeting.

During the meeting, Berkshire Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett answered a question about NetJets' growth but didn't mention the negotiations, although in response to an unrelated question he said labor problems are a factor that can move Berkshire toward selling a business.

He said NetJets is doing well but is in an industry with low growth potential.

Contracts with pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers and maintenance employees remain in effect during negotiations to allow transportation to continue under the federal Railway Labor Act.

John Malmborg, president of the NetJets Association of Shared Airline Pilots, said company negotiators have sought wage and benefit concessions from the start, while NetJets revenue expands and the company shares profits with nonunion employees.

Cutbacks that date to the 2007-09 recession, including about 500 pilot furloughs, are causing delays and scheduling problems and hurting pilots' ability to maintain their role as the front line for the company's customer service, Malmborg said.

“We're concerned with the pace of operations, the strain on operations and cost-cutting that has taken place to where we can't take advantage of the opportunities that are out there,” he said.

NetJets has recalled some furloughed pilots but not enough to keep up with attrition, so the number of pilots on duty is down, he said.

NetJets spokesman Tom Hoyt said NetJets' customer service is “the best in the industry. It's as good as it's ever been.”

“It's our view that it's the union leadership that's using the standard union playbook, old tactics,” he said. “We're continuing to bargain in good faith and hoping to come to a resolution.”

The company is recalling pilots who were furloughed during the recession and is advertising for flight attendants, he said. “We're evaluating our needs and, as the market changes, we could add more as needed.”

He said the negotiations have not interfered with operations and service but declined to comment on specific issues, saying the discussion should remain at the bargaining table.

Berkshire reported that in 2013, NetJets' profits were up about 7 percent and revenue increased by $288million, or 7.5 percent, with revenue of about $4 billion for the year.

The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

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