North Carolina AG investigating MillerCoors plant closure

Candidate for governor spoke at union rally

Miller Coors LLC (2).JPG

North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper is investigating the timing of MillerCoors’ decision to close its Eden, N.C. brewery as possibly related to the merger of SABMiller and AB InBev.

MillerCoors says the decision to close the plant was made because of declining sales volumes and before any merger discussions. The work from the facility is being sent to a number of other breweries, including in Milwaukee.Miller Coors LLC (2).JPG

Cooper, a Democrat and candidate for governor, spoke at a Teamsters rally outside the plant Wednesday.

A press release from the Teamsters Local 391 says Cooper indicated his office had sent investigative demands and set up meetings with the companies involved. The release also says Cooper is working with the U.S. Department of Justice in its investigation of the merger.

A spokeswoman at Cooper’s North Carolina Department of Justice office said she would check on the extent of the investigation.

In December, a group of North Carolina state lawmakers led by Republican Sen. Philip Berger sent a letter to North Carolina U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis arguing the closure “simply doesn’t pass the smell test.”

MillerCoors announced plans in September to close the plant in an effort to streamline operations. The Teamsters release says the announcement came just days before talks about the merger became public.

“The only conceivable explanation is that (MillerCoors’) parent company, SABMiller, was working behind the scenes with Molson Coors, its partner in the MillerCoors joint venture, to identify and eliminate assets that would have complicated the looming merger,” the Berger letter says.

The union says it believes “the timing of the closure announcement was not accidental, and the closure, if it takes place, may lead to higher beer prices,” noting the facility accounts for approximately 12.5 percent of MillerCoors’ production.

In a statement, MillerCoors said its board of directors made the decision to close the Eden facility in August 2015 because of declining volume, which is down nearly 10 million barrels since 2008.

“As a result of this lost volume, the MillerCoors brewery network was not operating in an efficient and effective manner,” the statement said. “The decision to close Eden was made before any discussion between Molson Coors and ABI and was unrelated to ABI’s proposed acquisition of SABMiller.”

MillerCoors plans to begin layoffs from the closure in June, the union said.

The facility had roughly 520 employees when the closure was announced. MillerCoors said the decision was driven by significant overlap in distribution between the Eden and Shenandoah, Virginia breweries, which are separated by about 200 miles. The company planned to transition production to the Virginia brewery and facilities in Ohio, Texas, Georgia and Milwaukee.

The Teamsters’ release says Cooper and the union would like to see MillerCoors sell the brewery to someone who could keep it operational instead of closing it.

“This community and our entire state will suffer because of the loss of these good-paying jobs,” Cooper said in the release.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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