Jet Airline Baits Unionized Pilots With a Fake Twitter Account
The private business jet company NetJets, which is a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, is pushing for an Ohio judge to toss out a pilot union's lawsuit.
The 2014 complaint, which was filed by the union representing NetJets pilots, says that the company illegally accessed a password-protected message board used by NetJets employees. The lawsuit alleges that NetJets created a fake Twitter account called “TwinkieTheKid,” which was used to bait pilots into participating in “unlawful job actions." The union claims that the Twitter account was part of a wider plan to sue the union, as it was only actively tweeting for three days—the same three days when employees were engaged in informational picketing. The account hasn't tweeted since November 2014, but it appears as of this writing that it was never deleted.
NetJets claims that they launched an internal investigation into the matter and concluded that one person was responsible for the account and that he had acted without the knowledge of the company. "This situation, which involved a single manager acting alone, is the only episode of inappropriate conduct we have discovered in this ongoing investigation," a company spokesperson told Aviation International News. However, the lawsuit also alleges that management hung an actual Twinkie in its corporate offices alongside photos of some union members, to imply that the workers were being watched. The suit claims that the Twinkie was hung as a way to "ratify" the company's illegal action.
As a piece by Tim Ferholz from 2015 points out, "Many of the tweets are quite opaque, if you’re not familiar with airline labor negotiations and inside jokes among pilots, or obviously produced by bots... But this may be the first time Twitter sockpuppetry has taken center stage in a labor battle."
Labor unrest isn't generally associated with Buffett-owned companies, but the Wall Street Journal has referred to NetJets as "a periodic source of worry for Mr. Buffett." In addition to the union-busting allegations, NetJets employees have protested “unjustifiable cost cuts and overhead reductions in the face of increasing flight demand, record profits and a dramatic reduction in debt."
NetJets says that the union has failed to back up any of its assertions with facts and that the lawsuit is merely a device to launch a "witch-hunt" against the company's management and pilots who are supportive of the management.
A recent piece at CNBC declared that Buffett's jet company was "changing how the wealthy fly." Mark Wilson, president of NetJets Europe, told CNBC,"To date 2016 has also been a strong period of growth for us, and we continue to increase our market share."