Celebrity cook Paula Deen targeted in union dispute

Courtesy: Pauladeen.com
Courtesy: Pauladeen.com

Dec. 11, 2007

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Celebrity cook Paula Deen finds herself in an unlikely position -- caught in the middle of a labor dispute.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union held a rally last night outside Deen's restaurant in her home city of Savannah. The union has targeted Deen because of her endorsement deal with Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia.

It is the owner of the world's largest pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. The union has fought with the company for more than a decade in attempts to unionize the plant's workers. Union organizers want Deen to meet with disgruntled workers at the Tar Heel plant and take their concerns over low pay and poor working conditions to Smithfield executives.

They also want her to stop endorsing Smithfield products if the company refuses to make changes. Deen, on her first day home from a tour promoting her book "Christmas With Paula Deen," said yesterday that she has NO plans to intervene.

The Food Network chef says she feels she is being dragged into something in which she had no expertise.

Here is Paul Deen's statement in response:

SAVANNAH, Ga. (December 10, 2007) - I'm a mother, a grandmother and a cook. I cook for my family, my fans and my customers. That's what I'm an expert at.

I wouldn't want a union organizer waiting on tables in my restaurant, no more than they would want me messin' around at their bargaining table. I'm just trying to run a business that was built by good folks who have been like family to me for the past 20 years.

The UFCW's attempts to use my name to further their cause is disrupting the livelihoods of my employees, who are trying to earn a living and serve our valued customers.

Here's all I need to know about this union issue: I've talked to Smithfield employees in Tar Heel, and they told me they want this settled with a secret-ballot election. And that will happen once the union agrees.

It's the American way, as I see it.