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NetJets Sued for Impersonating Union Member on Twitter

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on December 12, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

First, employers tried to spy on employees by making them hand over their social media account credentials. Then a bunch of states made that illegal, so that didn't work anymore.

Then, employers monitored Internet traffic. But that only meant employees chatted offline. So that didn't work anymore. What's the next big thing? Impersonating a union member!

Who's Tweeting That?

If this post had to be divided into either "Goofus" or "Gallant," put it in the "Goofus" column. NetJets Aviation got caught impersonating union members on Twitter. (NetJets, which is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, is a private charter jet company. The union members in this case are its pilots.)

But it's even better than that: The fake Twitter account, according to Inside Counsel, tried to "encourage NJASAP members to violate the Railway Labor Act's status quo provisions and bait them to endorse or participate in an unlawful job action, among other allegations."

That's what's called an agent provocateur, and they've been used since the good old days of union-busting to try to delegitimize union activity. It doesn't stop there, though. According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Ohio, management also somehow obtained access to a private, union member-only message board.

The alleged activities come at a time when NetJets and the pilots union are, not coincidentally, in the middle of a contract negotiation. In fact, they've been negotiating since June of last year.

Some Viable Claims, Others Maybe Not

The lawsuit claims violations of the Railway Labor Act and the Stored Communications Act. The Railway Labor Act is a specialized labor statute that affects railroad and airline workers. Unlike the National Labor Relations Act, which only the government can enforce, the RLA provides a private cause of action for violations. Hence the lawsuit. It's likely that the fake Twitter account could subject NetJets to liability for interfering with employees' ability to conduct union activities.

The Stored Communications Act claim may or may not be a viable cause of action, depending on how the employer obtained access to the private message board. If another employee voluntarily gave management a password to the board, then there's probably no SCA issue. On the other hand, if there were any pressure put on an employee to divulge a password, or if NetJets found a password by monitoring an employee's communications, that would be problematic for NetJets.

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