OMAHA, Neb., May 2 (Reuters) - Warren Buffett on Saturday denied that he had any anti-union agenda, as the NetJets luxury aviation unit of his Berkshire Hathaway Inc tries to end roughly two years of contentious contract talks with its pilots.
Buffett spoke at Berkshire’s annual shareholder meeting in Omaha, as some NetJets pilots picketed outside.
The NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots, which represents more than 2,700 of those pilots, is resisting what they call NetJets’ efforts to cut its budget, reduce jobs, and obtain concessions on health care, job security and work rules.
“We have no anti-union agenda whatsoever,” said Buffett, who has flown on NetJets planes for 20 years. “It’s perfectly understandable that employers and employees have some differences from time to time. We’ll get it worked out, but that doesn’t necessarily comes in a day or a week or a month.”
NetJets specializes in “fractional” aircraft ownership, which lets individuals and companies buy shares of private jets, enabling them to travel on short notice with greater privacy than on commercial aircraft.
The pilots group in December sued NetJets, accusing it of baiting pilots through bogus postings on Twitter to conduct work slowdowns for which they could be fired, and publishing photos of pilots engaged in lawful picketing.
NetJets has denied wrongdoing. While it has returned to profitability after a $711 million loss in 2009, it has said it must be better prepared for economic slowdowns.
Buffett said he had recalled only three businesses in his 50 years at Berkshire where there were strikes, including at See’s Candies.
He also rejected the idea it was a mistake for Berkshire to buy NetJets, for which it paid $725 million in 1998.
“NetJets is a very decent business,” he said. “We have very professional pilots, and we have at the moment have a difference of opinion about the contract, and that will get settled.”
The NetJets pilots’ lawsuit is in Columbus, Ohio, where the company has operations. Berkshire is based in Omaha. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in Omaha, Nebraska; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Bernard Orr)