Unions to hog-tie pork spokesperson

Paula Deen is as political as a plate of fried chicken, with greens, squash casserole and corn bread on the side. The only group that might have a beef with her is Weight Watchers, or grumpy vegans, not a big national union.

Yet on Monday, supporters of the United Food and Commercial Workers union plan to be on the sidewalk outside The Lady & Sons restaurant - and wearing chef's hats, no less - to protest her role as a paid spokeswoman for the Smithfield Food corporation.

The head wear is a nice touch. But if it's not too late, they should go with dunce caps.

Smithfield is the nation's leading producer of pork products. Paula Deen is one of the country's experts in getting those pork products past people's taste buds.

The pairing is a natural. While I have no idea what Smithfield is paying her, she's worth every dime. She's the Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan of Southern cooking. Celebrity-wise, the road to "real" food goes slap dab through her kitchen, thanks to her show on TV's Food Network, a pantry of cookbooks and her rich-as-real-butter personality.

And organized labor knows it. That's why it's going downtown to hog-tie Savannah's best-known foodie. It hopes to use the Sultaness of Scrumptious as leverage in a bitter, decade-old labor dispute at a Smithfield plant in North Carolina.

Sadly, even some local Democrats have swallowed the union's logic, which is to paint Paula as a hapless tool of a cruel and evil overlord.

"We need to encourage Paula Deen to do something about the situation," according a Democratic Party e-mail that went out last Thursday. It encouraged Savannahians to join the picketing during the lunch and dinner hours.

Gee, and after that, maybe they can all march down to the waterfront and toss the Waving Girl statue into the Savannah River, to protest a sexist display of overt female friendliness.

Local Democrats have more important things to do - like maintaining their credibility.

Party poobahs and labor bigwigs are joined at the hip at the national level. But Dems here should know that picketing Paula, the Grande Dame of Good Cheer, is a brainless move. It's not going to generate sympathy for a union that wants organize several thousand workers in Tar Heel, N.C. Instead, it's going to make picketers look like heels - and probably serve up some local voters to the GOP on a silver platter.

I've never been inside a pork processing plant. I have, however, seen what happens inside a plant that turns live chickens into food parts. It's messy, grim and not a place I'd choose to work, even if management treated me royally.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union maintains that Smithfield treats its North Carolina workers like peons, then threatens to fire those who breathe the U-word.

Smithfield denies it. The company says its employees have asked for a secret ballot vote on unionization, but the union has refused, opting instead for a campaign to pressure Smithfield at the corporate level to cave in.

This fight has been going on in North Carolina, which is a right-to-work state like Georgia, for at least 10 years.

Look for it to continue for another 10, since neither the union nor management seem ready to blink.

But that's their food fight. Don't drag a lady who turned humble sack lunches into a home-cooking conglomerate into the middle of it.

Targeting Paula Deen isn't a sign of a union's support of workers at a non-union plant. It's a sign of desperation.

Besides, the Vamp of Vittles has other fish to fry - covered in corn bread mix, of course.


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