Buffett-Owned Plant Accepts Workers’ Right to Unionize

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A Kent, WA aerospace supply company owned by billionaire Warren Buffett has agreed to a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board in a case that accused company managers of repeated violations of federal labor law.

As part of the settlement, the general manager of Protective Coatings Inc. (ProCoat) will read aloud a letter to his employees promising to recognize their rights under federal law to form a union, and promising that his managers won’t do things to interfere with them exercising that right — including threatening them with taking their jobs away for supporting a union.

“Workers have a right under federal law to form a union, free from bullying and threats,” said District 751President Jon Holden. “We’ve been telling the workers that for months. Now they’re going to hear it from their employer as well.”

The company is a subsidiary of Portland-based Precision Castparts, which Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired in a $37.2 billion deal that closed early this year.

There are roughly 235 hourly workers at ProCoat’s plant in Kent, who are specialists in plating, coating, anodizing and polishing aircraft parts used by the Boeing Co. and other airplane and helicopter manufacturers.

“This is an important victory for the company’s workers,” said IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary Allen. “The NLRB has made it clear that they have the right to decide if they want a union without having to endure anti-union tactics and intimidation by their managers.”

Buffett has made public statements that Berkshire Hathaway is not an anti-union employer and he’s been an outspoken advocate for reducing income inequality. So union officers were surprised when his company launched an aggressive anti-union campaign, which included the adoption of a personal conduct policy that allowed ProCoat managers to fire or discipline workers for taking part in union activities, even if they did it away from work and on their own time.

“Warren Buffett has said more than once that ‘people at the bottom should be doing better,’” Holden said. “Well, the people at ProCoat should be doing better. It’s my hope Mr. Buffett will do his part by allowing them to vote on union representation free of intimidation or coercion.”

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