- Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett told Sen. Bernie Sanders he would not get involved in a strike at Special Metals, a company owned by Berkshire subsidiary Precision Castparts.
- Sanders wrote to the billionaire businessman and asked him to "intervene" on behalf of 450 striking steelworkers, who face possible pay cuts and increased health-care costs.
- Buffett cited Berkshire's policy of allowing companies it owns to handle labor and personnel decisions.
Sanders wrote to Buffett on Tuesday and asked the Berkshire CEO to get involved in talks between United Steelworkers Local 40 and West Virginia-based Special Metals. Precision Castparts, a subsidiary of Buffett's conglomerate, owns Special Metals.
In a letter dated Tuesday and released by Sanders' office on Thursday, Buffett told the Vermont independent he would not step into the labor negotiations. He cited Berkshire's policy of letting its companies "deal individually with their own labor and personnel decisions."
"I'm passing along your letter to the CEO of Precision Castparts but making no recommendation to him as to any action," Buffett wrote. "He is responsible for his business."
About 450 Special Metals workers in Huntington, W.V. walked out on Oct. 1. Health care is among the biggest issues in the contract talks as the union tries to avoid paying more for a higher deductible insurance plan, United Steelworkers Local 40 President Chad Thompson said Thursday.
Thompson said Sanders' office reached out to offer help to the striking workers. He spoke to the senator by phone. He added that he appreciates Sanders offering support and hopes the increased attention will help talks advance.
Thompson was disappointed not to reach a deal by Christmas. He said negotiations will restart next week, more than three months into the strike.
"We're doing whatever we can to try to help us get back to work," he said, thanking the Huntington community and local unions for their support during the strike.
In a statement, Precision Castparts spokesman David Dugan said the company is "actively engaged" in negotiations with the Huntington workers. He added that "we have and will continue to bargain in good faith and move through the process to reach a fair agreement."
In his letter to Buffett, Sanders asked him to "intervene" in the talks to "make sure that the workers are treated with dignity and respect and receive a fair contract that rewards the hard work and sacrifices they have made."
"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 senator wrote. "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."
Sanders, a labor advocate, has put his weight behind multiple strikes and union drives in recent years. Most recently, he rallied with striking Kellogg's workers in Michigan this month.
Buffett, one of the 10 wealthiest people in the U.S., has not been as frequent a target of Sanders' ire as his peers including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
In his letter to Buffett, Sanders noted that the Berkshire CEO has "spoken out eloquently on the crisis our country now faces in terms of growing income and wealth inequality."