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Buffett’s labor disputes
American Shipper
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While cost-cutting measures have made life harder for employees, they have led to windfall profits for Buffett and other rail tycoons.
Both BNSF and Union Pacific—the two largest freight rail corporations in the U.S.—posted record earnings last year. Shareholders have benefited from the profits, with U.S. rail companies sping $196 billion in buybacks and divids since 2010, according to the Surface Transportation Board, an indepent federal regulatory agency.
A spokesperson from Buffett’s BNSF told Fortune that the company was “pleased” that an agreement with labor unions had been reached and that a strike had been avoided. A spokesperson from Union Pacific told Fortune that the company was preparing to approve “historic wage increases” for employees once the agreement is ratified by union members.
The new agreement, if it goes through, will see compounded wages increase by up to 24% over the next five years including retroactive payments, according to a shared statement by railroad trade unions BLET and SMART. The agreement also loosens the industry’s attance requirements, allowing for more expansive sick leave and medical exemption policies. The agreement still needs to be ratified by union members to be considered final.
Warren Buffett and BNSF have been at the center of railroad workers’ demands since last April, when railroad union members protested outside the first in-person annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders in over two years in Buffett’s hometown of Omaha, demanding pay increases and better working conditions.
Earlier this week, Dennis Pierce, a top negotiator representing railroad unions, accused BNSF and Union Pacific of holding up progress, specifically where attance and sick leave policies were concerned. BNSF responded to the accusations by calling Pierce’s claim “categorically false.”
Earlier this week, no union ally Sen. Bernie Sanders urged Buffett to come to an agreement with protesters.
It isn’t the first time Sanders has argued with Buffett over his relationship with labor unions. Last year, Sanders sent a letter to Buffett asking him to intervene in a labor dispute between workers and a steelmaking company owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett eventually declined to involve himself in the negotiations.
“During the pandemic, Mr. Buffett became $36 billion richer. He must ensure that rail workers receive decent wages and safe working conditions,” Sanders wrote in a Tuesday tweet.

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