A sickening health-care cost shift:Berkshire is taking from our paychecks to line national contractor Lee Enterprises’ pockets

A sickening health-care cost shift: Berkshire Hathaway is looting our paychecks to line out-of-state contractor Lee Enterprises’ pockets

Published Nov. 18, 2019

Warren Buffett says newspapers are vital to democracy. He also proclaims to be
searching for a fairer, more cost-effective health-care solution for the thousands of employees of his Berkshire Hathaway companies.

Contrast those two pledges with what he’s doing to his hometown newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway media company is pillaging — more precisely, paying an out-of-state national contractor to pillage — by hemorrhaging product and staff. And by the latest disturbing trend: cost shifting health-care expenses from Berkshire Hathaway to employees.

Cost shifting, in case you’re unaware, is the process where employees
shoulder all or the bulk of annual health-care increases. This is just the latest way Buffett’s hired gun — out-of-state contractor Lee Enterprises — is gouging Nebraskans in an effort to squeeze millions out of the newspaper industry.
Apparently, Buffett paying Lee an incredible $10 million last year wasn’t enough. Lee now is going to try to save Berkshire money by literally looting our employees’ paychecks.

This isn’t hyperbole, it’s fact. Here are the lowlights of what the company has been doing with health care. Numbers have been provided by the company, upon an information request, and compiled by our bargaining committee.

  1. The company flat-out admitted they are pushing employees to go to high-deductible, high-premium (HDHP) plans, while the trend in the United States is to go away from these plans. Study after study has found that employees under HDHP plants aren’t going to the doctor for health needs because they are afraid of how much it will cost. In fact, many companies — even other Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries — are doing away with HDHP plans.

2. Over the past 11 years, from 2009 to the proposed rates for 2020, employees’ share of health care costs has increased 129 percent, while our employer’s share has increased just 71 percent.

3. Over the past FIVE years, from 2015 to the proposed rates for 2020, employees’ share of health care costs has increased 44 percent, while Berkshire Hathaway’s share has increased just 14.4 percent.

Ask yourself and your colleagues: Why is the company shifting those costs to employees who haven’t had raises in years? Further, ask yourself and your colleagues: If health care costs are going up, why isn’t the company, at a minimum, honoring the typical split of health care costs — in which the company typically pays 70 percent and the employees 30 percent?
The company will lie and tell you that it assumes all the risk. This isn’t true. By pushing employees to high deductible plans, those employees are taking on the first $2,000 to $6,000 of risk. In the event of a health care crisis — sudden illness, disease or troubling diagnosis — the company has insurance that limits its exposure in each event to $75,000.
Finally, consider this: The newspaper has been pillaged by Lee’s leeches for the past year and a half. The size of the paper is down dramatically. Our newsroom staff size alone is down 42 percent.
Consequently, with far fewer people, our overall health care costs have dropped significantly. But that isn’t enough for the Leeches. They have to further pick our pockets and our paychecks to pay down their $450 million debt and serve their out-of-state shareholders.

We’re attempting to address this at the bargaining table. Meanwhile, the company continues with its shallow, sham bargaining. With a straight face, the company claimed to send us a “counterproposal” that said it would limit future HDHP premium increases to 20 percent PER YEAR if we would agree to give up our right to bargain over health care in our first contract.
Calling this a “serious offer” — which labor director Ali Zoibi did — is “Mexico will pay for the wall” level nonsense.
This cost-shifting is just the latest way that Buffett and his debt-ridden contractor are treating the state’s best newspaper and the Nebraskans who work hard to bring news to our readers and our communities.

Unless the company comes to its senses, stay tuned for future collective actions. In the meantime, spread the message to our co-workers who aren’t represented by the Guild: Don’t rob me just to pay Lee.
And: Don’t rob my health care just to pay Lee’s welfare.

–Compiled by your OWH Guild Bargaining Team