Inside the Miami Beach Convention Center, the mood was upbeat during the opening day of Art Basel in Miami Beach. Outside, however, it was a different matter, as dozens of uniformed pilots protested the fair’s longtime sponsor NetJets.
Though their demeanor was restrained and even jovial, their signs were blunt: “Hands Off Our Benefits” and “Management Greed Is Destroying NetJets.” According to organizers, about 65 pilots and a handful of flight attendants came out over the course of Wednesday to protest at the fair’s entrance. They planned to return throughout the week.
“NetJets has a booth here and they do an event for NetJets customers, so this is a good environment to get our message out,” union representative Pedro LeRoux explained. “We’ve actually had a lot of NetJets customers stop by and talk to us who were unaware of the labor issues.”
Relations between NetJets and its workers have been tense for over a year. Despite being profitable, NetJets is seeking to trim 5 percent from its budget through concessions and shrinking its workforce, in the hopes of generating increased returns for Berkshire Hathaway, the Warren Buffet conglomerate that owns the jet-sharing company.
“We fly some of the wealthiest people around, and we are owned by Warren Buffet, one of the wealthiest individuals on the planet,” LeRoux said, when asked what the pilots’ message to fairgoers was. “We just want them to know what they [Buffet and NetJets CEO Jordan Hansell] are doing to the average American, with the cuts we are expected to take.”
NetJets, for its part, has issued a statement accusing the pilots of attempting to destroy the company’s brand rather than negotiating.
In addition to the picket at Art Basel in Miami Beach, the organization representing 2,700 NetJets pilots has just issued a lawsuit against NetJets, alleging that the company waged a campaign of dirty tricks including “impersonating a pilot on Twitter” and “illegally infiltrating a password-protected, confidential message board for pilots,” according to Reuters.
For more information about the pilot’s demands, LaRoux directed people to visit http://www.genuineqs.com/.
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