NetJets pilots reject new work contract

 - February 2, 2007, 10:26 AM

On October 29, more than four out of every five of the unionized pilots at fractional provider NetJets voted to reject a tentative agreement (TA) reached in late August (see AIN November, page 4), sending a strong message to their now former master executive council (MEC) members, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Local 284 and the company itself. Of the 1,762 ballots returned (out of 1,781 sent), 1,440 opposed the TA, 306 were cast to ratify the agreement and 16 were voided.

The pilots’ contract became amendable in October 2001, and active contract negotiations have been under way for about the past year-and-a-half. Many pilots apparently axed the TA due to pay, though there were plenty of other troublesome issues, including crew gateways, scope language and possible usage of CVR data for disciplinary action. Strong Union (SU), a group of NetJets pilots running as a slate in the MEC elections, led the opposition to the TA.

Local 284 voided the planned October 28 MEC election two days before the election was scheduled because secret-ballot envelopes were not mailed to members. Further complicating matters, the NetJets pilots are now without pilot peer representation because the MEC essentially dissolved at 12:01 a.m. on the first of last month since the election failed to take place. The union said a third party will be commissioned to conduct an MEC election in the near future.

Negotiations On Hold
Without an MEC, the official negotiations for a new TA are on hold indefinitely. However, Strong Union spokeswoman Amy Vidovich, a NetJets pilot who is one of the five-member SU slate, told AIN that NetJets management, including president Bill Boisture, is engaging in discussions with individual pilots about contractual items.
While it’s unclear whether NetJets management is actually violating any provision of the Railway Labor Act of 1926, under which airlines and fractional providers fall, an official at IBT watchdog group Teamsters for a Democratic Union said such actions could be construed as “surveillance and intimidation, and definitely undermine the good-faith bargaining process.” NetJets declined to comment on this issue.

Meanwhile, SU is currently conducting a petition drive to break away from Local 284 and form its own IBT chapter. According to Vidovich, SU has collected about 1,300 such petitions from NetJets pilots. She gave no timetable on when, or if, a new local would be formed for the NetJets pilots.

But Vidovich said SU is working on a “plan B,” just in case the IBT won’t allow the NetJets pilots to break from Local 284. On this note, the SU members have set up the Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (ASAP), a nonprofit organization with offices in Easton, Ohio, near NetJets’ operation control center in Columbus.

“This nonprofit group is being funded entirely by donations,” she said, “and it’s both our ‘stick’ to yield influence over the IBT and our backup if indeed we can’t break away from our local.”