By Sharon Johnson
WeNews senior correspondent
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The California Nurses Association is strenuously opposing Meg Whitman's bid for governor. The union is antagonized by Whitman's cost-cutting plans and doubts she will defend high nurse-to-patient staffing ratios.
(WOMENSENEWS)--When Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman appears at some campaign stops in coming weeks, "Queen Meg" will be there to greet her.
The blond, crown-wearing woman has been hired by the California Nurses Association as a Whitman look-alike to spoof what the union regards as the candidate's regal attitudes toward everyday citizens and patients, especially low-income women.
One of the most influential unions in the United States, because of its advocacy for patient protections, the Oakland-based California Nurses Association is leading the fight to defeat Whitman, the former CEO of eBay who has already spent $104 million of her own money on the campaign.
The 86,000-member union is using street theater and strategically-placed ads to elect California Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 2 election. As California governor from 1975 to 1983, Brown sponsored key workplace protections for nurses.
"Whitman's agenda clearly represents her experience as a CEO of a corporation that sent 40 percent of its jobs overseas, and as a board member of Goldman Sachs, an investment bank that was bailed out by taxpayers," said Martha Kuhl, treasurer of the California Nurses Association, in a phone interview.
A Sept. 6 Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely California voters found Whitman leading with 48 percent support, Brown with 45 percent, 3 percent favoring other candidates and 4 percent undecided.
A billionaire graduate of the Harvard Business School, Whitman, if elected, would be the first female governor of California. Only eight states had female governors in 2009.
Whitman blames a bloated public sector for the state's $20 billion budget deficit. To close the gap, she plans to eliminate 40,000 state jobs and reform the pension system by increasing the retirement age, extending the waiting period for government workers to qualify for pension benefits and requiring them to contribute a higher percentage of their earnings to the plans.
"Changing the pension system is unfair to the thousands of diligent state workers who are counting on it to put food on the table during retirement," said Kuhl, a nurse for 29 years.
The union also fears Whitman will roll back workplace protections such as meal and rest breaks and staffing requirement in hospitals. In many states, one nurse on a medical-surgical unit may take care of as many as a dozen patients. California requires one nurse for every five patients.
Whitman has denied such suspicions. She sent two mailings to the homes of nurses throughout the state vowing to support the current state law on staff ratios. The wife of a Stanford University neurosurgeon, Whitman also said she would support more student aid for aspiring nurses.
Staffing ratios have been an issue in California gubernatorial politics since the 1970s, when short-staffed hospitals instituted mandatory overtime, which led to decreases in the quality of care because exhausted nurses were looking after too many patients.
The California Nurses Association supported Brown then because as governor he implemented the nation's first staffing ratios for intensive care units. He also signed a law giving registered nurses and other employees of the University of California collective bargaining rights, which led to increases in salaries and benefits for nurses in the private as well as public sector.
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