NetJets pilots seek independent union

 - May 1, 2008, 12:07 PM

The “Strong Union” leaders who helped NetJets pilots obtain an industry-leading contract three years ago resigned from the local representing the fractional pilots– IBT Local 1108–in mid-March in the wake of “a resurgent decertification movement” being led by a group called the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (NJASAP). This move harks back to 2004, when a small group of activist NetJets pilots were elected to lead the union, which was soon followed by a movement to form an independent pilots association called the Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots (ASAP).

ASAP’s intent was to separate from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and unionize the pilots at the other major fractionals. ASAP abandoned the decertification effort in fall 2005 when the IBT allowed the NetJets pilots to switch from Local 284–which primarily represented truckers–to form their own local (1108).

The latest decertification effort is being driven by “complaints that are structural in nature,” according to NetJets pilot and outgoing IBT 1108 president Bill Olsen. Topping this list is the fact that 25 percent of NetJets pilots’ union dues–a sum estimated at nearly $1.5 million this year–goes to the IBT. “The pilot group’s perception is that representation by an independent union…is a better use of dues monies than continuing the current representation structure,” Olsen said in his resignation letter to IBT president James Hoffa.

It didn’t take long for things to get ugly between the IBT and NJASAP. By the end of March, Hoffa sent a letter to the NetJets pilots attributing much of 1108’s success to the IBT. The NJASAP’s board of directors disagreed and sent a letter to the pilot group saying that Hoffa’s letter contained “various mischaracterizations, misrepresentations and mis-credits.”

Before rebutting Hoffa’s assertions item by item, the NJASAP directors wrote, “This public vetting of false information by the Teamsters is likely to make other pilot groups and others represented by the Teamsters more aware…we had hoped for an amicable split without airing the Teamsters’ dirty laundry.”

Olsen separately alleged that the IBT was largely unresponsive to the needs of the NetJets pilots.

Upcoming Election
On April 18, the IBT and NJASAP reached a surprise agreement to “resolve the question of the NetJets preferred representative for collective bargaining by a secret ballot election conducted by a mutually acceptable third party.” The vote will take place next month, and a simple majority will determine the winner.

If the NetJets pilots choose to retain the IBT, the NJASAP and its leadership “will discontinue its efforts to replace the IBT as the collective bargaining representative.”

But if the NetJets pilot vote in favor of the NJASAP, then the IBT will relinquish representation rights to the independent group as of July 11. Should NetJets refuse to recognize the NJASAP as the bargaining group in this case, necessitating an election conducted by the National Mediation Board, “the IBT will not assert any right to participate in such election.”

If the NetJets pilots leave Local 1108, the agreement calls for a transfer of executive board duties to the Flight Options pilots, who in 2006 voted for representation by the IBT union. After the Strong Union leaders tendered their resignations, Flight Options master executive council chairman Mat Slinghoff was appointed 1108’s executive board trustee to ensure that the local can continue to represent Flight Options pilots, who are currently negotiating their first contract.