Bernie Sanders Tells Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett Company 'Can Do Better' Amid Strike

Bernie Sanders has voiced his support for the strike currently happening at a manufacturing facility owned by Warren Buffett.

Berkshire Hathaway's Special Metals plant in West Virginia has been experiencing a strike of around 450 workers since October 1. The facility helps make specialized alloys for military jet engines, spacecraft, and commercial planes. However, the United Steelworkers Local 40 union is in the middle of a dispute with the company's Precision Castparts department as they try to bargain for a fair contract. Sanders expressed his support for the strike and the workers involved, urging Buffett to intervene.

"At a time when this company and Berkshire Hathaway are both doing very well, there is no reason why workers employed by you should be worrying about whether they will be able to feed their children or have health care," the politician wrote in a letter. "There is no reason why the standard of living of these hard-working Americans should decline. I know that you and Berkshire Hathaway can do better than that."

However, Buffett is rejecting Sanders' plea. He wrote a separate letter explaining why.

"Our companies deal individually with their own labor and personnel decisions," the billionaire CEO explained. "We have never purchased or sold a company because of its union or non-union status. Some of our companies have as many as a dozen unions; others have none."

Bernie To Kellogg's
Pro-union U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has recently expressed support for the striking workers of Berkshire Hathaway. Above, Sanders speaks to striking Kellogg's workers in downtown Battle Creek, Michigan, on December 17, 2021. Photo by Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

There have already been a number of high-profile strikes across the country this year because labor unions feel emboldened to hold out for more amid the ongoing worker shortages. Many manufacturing workers also feel like they deserve substantial raises after keeping their plants operating throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

At Special Metals, the company has been offering only a $2,000 signing bonus and modest raises in the later years of the contract that Sanders said won't keep up with the current high inflation rate. The company also proposed more than tripling the amount that employees would pay for their health insurance.

The Vermont Democrat and former presidential candidate has been working with unions across the country this year, and he even joined striking Kellogg's cereal plant workers at a rally earlier this month before they agreed on a new contract. Sanders said workers at Berkshire's 90-odd companies shouldn't have to make major concessions this year when the conglomerate reported a $10 billion profit in its most recent quarter.

Buffett has long said that he allows the companies Berkshire owns to largely operate independently once he names their CEOs. Buffett focuses on finding the best ways to invest Berkshire's roughly $150 billion in cash while staying out of the day-to-day operations of the Omaha, Nebraska-based company's subsidiaries.

Berkshire Hathaway owns an eclectic mix of different businesses, including Geico insurance, BNSF railroad, a number of major utilities, several large manufacturers alongside more retail operations like Dairy Queen and See's Candy.

Buffett did not respond Wednesday to questions from The Associated Press about the labor dispute. He told Sanders in his response that he would forward the senator's letter to the CEO of Precision Castparts in Portland, Oregon, but that he won't make any recommendations to him.

"He is responsible for his business," Buffett said about the head of the aviation parts manufacturer.

Special Metals has held several negotiating sessions with the union since the strike began, but so far they have been unable to reach an agreement. They are scheduled to return to the bargaining table next week.

Chad Thompson, president of the local union, said workers aren't expecting to see significant raises in this contract, but they want to hang onto the benefits they already have and receive raises similar to what they have received in the past.

"We're willing to talk about paying a little more here and there or maybe not getting as much of a raise as what we usually get in contracts to try to offset that," Thompson said. "We're willing to pay what we think is fair—what we can agree to as fair—but we just don't think they're there. We don't think they're even being in the ballpark of fair."

Precision Castparts spokesman David Dugan said the company is committed to reaching a fair agreement through negotiations. During the strike, the company has been using outside workers to try and keep the Special Metals plant operating.

"Our desire is to achieve a respectful and productive relationship with our employees, and we have ultimately achieved that goal in previous contract negotiations over many years," Dugan said.

The Vermont Democrat and former presidential candidate has been working with unions across the country this year, and he even joined striking Kellogg's cereal plant workers at a rally earlier this month before they agreed on a new contract. Sanders said workers at Berkshire's 90-odd companies shouldn't have to make major concessions this year when the conglomerate reported a $10 billion profit in its most-recent quarter.

Buffett has long said that he allows the companies Berkshire owns to largely operate independently once he names their CEOs. Buffett focuses on finding the best ways to invest Berkshire's roughly $150 billion in cash while staying out of the day-to-day operations of the Omaha, Nebraska-based company's subsidiaries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Berkshire Hathaway
The company, owned by Warren Buffett, is experiencing a strike at one of its factories in West Virginia, with Buffett butting heads with Bernie Sanders over his involvement. Above, a sign on facade of Berkshire Hathaway office in downtown Summit, New Jersey, March 20, 2018. Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images