By JOSH FUNK, AP Business Writer
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Tens of thousands of people are expected to pack an Omaha arena Saturday for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting.
Most attending the company’s first in-person meeting since the pandemic want to be there just for the chance to hear from the 91-year-old Buffett and his 98-year-old investing partner, Charlie Munger, while they still can.
“How many more years do they have to do this? It’s history,” said money manager Justin Hardesty, who had been travelling to the meetings annually for almost a decade before they went virtual in 2020. Hardesty said he’s especially interested in hearing Buffett address some of the most pressing issues of the day, including the war in Ukraine and soaring inflation.
A large crowd filled an exhibit hall Friday to buy products from some of Berkshire’s 90-odd companies, including See’s Candy and Fruit of the Loom, or sign up for insurance policies sold by Geico. The meeting will be held Saturday in the adjoining arena with shareholders spilling into overflow rooms. Investors will be looking to learn more about Berkshire’s purchase of Alleghany insurance for $11.6 billion and recent multibillion-dollar investments in HP and Occidental Petroleum stock.
But mixed in among the thousands of people eager to hear Buffett and all of Berkshire’s vice chairmen spend hours answering questions will be some people unhappy with the conglomerate. And shareholders will even be asked to vote on a proposal that would take away Buffett’s chairman title.
Dozens of members of the two largest unions at Berkshire’s BNSF railroad plan to gather outside the arena Saturday to share their concerns with shareholders about the way the way the railroad is being run. Dennis Pierce, the national president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said BNSF needs to do a better job of taking care of its workers, especially when it reported a record profit of $6 billion last year.
“This is a celebration of the profits at Berkshire Hathaway and BNSF, and our workers did a lot of work to generate those profits,” Pierce said.
The railroad unions are upset with a tough new attendance policy that BNSF imposed earlier this year that they say makes it difficult for workers to take any time off and pressures them to show up even when they are sick or fatigued. Pierce said the union is also frustrated with the lack of progress in contract talks after nearly three years of bargaining.
Pierce said the unions hope that putting public pressure on the company that owns BNSF might prompt some movement when contract talks resume next week.
The shareholder proposal suggesting that Buffett give up the job of chairman, and others suggesting Berkshire disclose more details about how it views the risk of climate change, are likely to fail. That’s simply because Buffett opposes them and he controls 32% of the vote.
CFRA Research analyst Cathy Seifert said even if those resolutions fail to pass, “the issues put forth by shareholders at the upcoming annual meeting are valid issues that Berkshire needs to address.”
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