• Group says company is hiding the names of two board members
  • Union says it should know `who is pulling the strings'

Greg Abel’s growing prominence at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has landed the energy executive in a long-running labor dispute.

A union representing pilots at Berkshire’s NetJets unit said that it took out an advertisement Monday in Abel’s hometown newspaper, Iowa’s Des Moines Register, identifying the executive as a board member of the business. Two other directors remain unidentified, despite attempts to learn who is overseeing the company, the group said on its website.

“Greg Abel: Pilot Negotiators need to know who is pulling the strings at NetJets,” the ad reads. “We do not play with your customers’ lives, and you shouldn’t play with ours.”

The Berkshire unit has been in a pitched battle with the union, the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots, for years. The group has sought to pressure the company by taking out newspaper ads and picketing near company facilities.

The talks have stalled despite efforts to conclude the negotiations in recent months after a new management team was named in June. NetJets said that the company and the union are still “a long way apart” on pay and benefits.

“Much of this difference is due to the parties’ views about the economics of this business -- and thus how much additional cost we can take on over the next decade -- as well as different expectations concerning the demand for the services we provide,” the company says in an undated statement online that was cited by a spokeswoman Monday.

NetJets operates hundreds of aircraft and employs about 6,000 people. It was a pioneer in fractional aircraft ownership, in which businesses and wealthy individuals buy a share in planes in exchange for flight hours.

Abel, 53, is mainly known for running Berkshire’s energy utilities, which sell electricity in states like Nevada and Iowa and operate natural gas pipelines that stretch from the Great Lakes to Texas.

Still, his public profile has been rising in recent years. He was named to the board of H.J. Heinz when Berkshire helped buy the business in 2013. Because that business had publicly traded debt, it filed information about is board with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, a requirement that doesn’t apply to most Berkshire units.

In February, Berkshire Vice Chairman Charles Munger said that Abel was in some important ways a “better business executive than Buffett,” stoking speculation that Abel was a top contender to one day take over for the 85-year-old billionaire as Berkshire’s chief executive officer.

A spokeswoman for Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the unit Abel runs, declined to comment. NetJets had no immediate comment beyond referring to the company’s website.

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