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Anheuser-Busch, Teamsters reach labor agreement that avoids US strike

Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch has reached a contract agreement with the Teamsters union that avoids a strike at its U.S. plants.

The union had threatened a strike at the brewer’s 12 U.S. plants if an agreement on a new five-year contract wasn’t reached by 11:59 p.m. EST Thursday. The Teamsters union represents 5,000 Anheuser-Busch workers who brew and package beer and even take care of the company’s legendary Clydesdale horses.

But the two sides said late Wednesday they had reached a tentative agreement that boosts wages and increases vacation days and pension contributions.

“Teamsters make the beer, Teamsters make Anheuser-Busch successful and our members deserve the best contract. That is what we fought for and won today,” Teamsters General President Sean M. O’Brien said in a statement.

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Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth said the contract also makes significant job security commitments.

"Our people are our greatest strength, and we are incredibly pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that continues to recognize the talent, dedication, and hard work of our teams, while also positioning the company for long-term success,” Whitworth said in a statement.

The union said the full tentative agreement will be shared with workers prior to a ratification vote, which is expected to happen next week.

The strike would have been the first in the U.S. against Anheuser-Busch since 1976.

The union said earlier this month it was angered by a company proposal that would close breweries and lay off workers.

But Anheuser-Busch is facing declining beer sales in the U.S., where drinkers are increasingly opting for spirits, hard seltzers and alcohol-free beverages.

It’s also trying to win back consumers. Bud Light, its best-selling brand, faced a conservative backlash last year after it sent a commemorative can to transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney. Transgender rights supporters also deserted the brand, saying it didn't do enough to support Mulvaney.

Anheuser-Busch shipments to U.S. wholesalers dropped 13.8% last year, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights. Overall, U.S. beer shipments were down 5%.

The company, part of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, brews more than a dozen brands at its U.S. plants, including Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra and Stella Artois.

Not all U.S. brewers have been spared strikes, however. On Wednesday, 420 Teamsters-represented workers were on their second week of a strike at a Molson Coors plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Molson Coors should pay close attention to the bar we’ve set today for brewery workers across the country,” O’Brien said in his statement.

Dee-ann Durbin, The Associated Press