Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett confronted accusations today at his standing-room only shareholder meeting that two of his subsidiaries are feeling the heat from unhappy employees and dissatisfied customers.
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More than 100 NetJets pilots wearing their uniforms marched quietly outside the buzzing CenturyLink arena where the meeting was held. As 40,000 shareholders entered, they passed the pilots picketing the event, carrying signs indicating labor strife.
"We feel we shouldn't have to make concessions in compensation and benefits that include healthcare," union president Pedro Leroux told Fox Business. "Our pilots' compensation is well below the legacy carriers," Leroux said.
After the issue came up during the shareholder meeting, Buffett told Fox Business late this afternoon pilots are well compensated. "They're doing well and we’re doing well. What we pay is higher than most of our competitors. They have terrific working conditions. If we have an opening, we have lots and lots of people who want to come join us, and we have very few that want to leave. So, it can’t be the worst job in the world."
Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charlie Munger addressed the issue during the 6 hour long meeting. "I have never in all my years been dissatisfied with any NetJets pilots. I’m not sure the union is representative of all the pilots," said Munger.
The talks between the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots' union and company management have dragged on for nearly two years. When asked by Fox Business Thursday night whether he'd get involved in the contentious discussions to bring about a resolution, Buffett said he would not.
When pressed during the shareholder meeting, Buffett maintained he and Berkshire are not gunning for a fight.
"We have no anti-union agenda whatsoever. We think we have sensational pilots. I’ve flown NetJets for 20 years and it’s always been a good experience...I’m flying on NetJets, my kids are flying on NetJets.. I get the same planes and the same pilots as everyone else. We have very professional pilots but at the moment we have a difference of opinion."
Buffett and Munger were also asked to address accusations that Berkshire-owned Clayton Homes engaged in predatory lending practices. Tennessee-based Clayton Homes is the nation's largest manufactured home company.
The issue was the very first question Buffett was asked by journalist Carol Loomis during the meeting. The accusations first came to light in a Seattle Times newspaper report.
"I haven't received a single complaint from a Clayton Homes owner," Buffett told the audience. When pressed later by FOX Business that perhaps it might be difficult for the average individual to reach him to complain, Buffett told FBN, "They can always write me. No, I get complaints on a number of things. I mean, settlement of insurance claims and all kinds of things. So it’s very easy to send me a letter. And I see every letter that’s written to me. There’s none that gets handled by anybody else. So I can tell you in three years, I’ve not had a letter or any other kind – or an email... I’ve not had a letter from anybody at Clayton Homes – Clayton Homes and borrowers."
While walking the CenturyLink display floor, Buffett was approached by a reporter from the Seattle Times who asked why Buffett hadn't replied to the paper's request to comment on the accusations.
"I will today," Buffett said.
Buffett's rebuttal came just minutes into the meeting. "We help lenders with our own money. If we make a mistake, that hurts them and it hurts us. I read the Seattle Times Story and in it were items that weren't true. Accusations that we make 20% profit on homes sales are simply not true."