California Nurses a Royal Pain for Billionaire Candidate

When billionaire Meg Whitman, who has never held any political office, decided to use her personal fortune to run for California’s highest office, the California Nurses Association dispatched "Queen Meg" to mock her enormous wealth and expose her destructive agenda. Photo: CNA.

When billionaire Meg Whitman, who has never held any political office and seldom even bothers to vote, decided to use her personal fortune to run for California’s highest office, the California Nurses Association challenged her with political satire.

Drawing on a history of street theater and direct action that defeated outgoing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s worst anti-worker ideas, CNA hired an actress for the “Queen Meg 2010” campaign. With her entourage of nurses in red scrubs and blond wigs, Queen Meg followed Whitman to high-ticket fundraisers during the primary election, mocking her enormous wealth and educating the public about what a Whitman administration would mean for patients, nurses, and all working people in California.

The decision wasn’t hard for the union: Take on the former eBay CEO—sometimes described as “Schwarzenegger on steroids”—before the election, or spend the next four years fighting the damage she’ll create? If elected Whitman will begin dismantling health and safety protections attained over many years of hard work. She has said she will cut back 40,000 state workers (including, more than likely, public health nurses), pensions, meal and rest breaks, and overtime protections.

Whitman amassed her fortune on the backs of working people at the companies where she presided. Workers suffered layoffs as jobs were outsourced and manufacturing plants were closed. Benefits and pensions were reduced for those remaining, while at the same time Whitman gave herself and her executives hefty compensation packages and stock options.

CNA plans to follow Whitman relentlessly on her campaign trail until the November election. One of the dangers of political satire, however, is that some may not understand the humor, especially when English may be a second language. With an estimated 20 percent of the California electorate Latino voters, CNA will have to work hard to counteract Whitman.

NURSES MAKE HOUSE CALL

More than a thousand nurses rallied July 15 and then visited one of Whitman’s many homes, on a quiet tree-lined street in upscale Atherton. The rally generated much discussion in the workplace as nurses followed the news coverage. Whitman attempted to discredit CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro and her salary, much to nurses’ amusement, as Whitman herself is worth $1.3 billion.

Nurses are using this opportunity to educate and organize those new to CNA. As in any union, rank-and-file members have different political beliefs, but almost all working staff nurses understand the importance of the six-year-old nurse-to-patient ratio law won by CNA (the nation’s first) and the protection it has provided our patients. Whitman has stated in her mailings to nurses that she supports nurse-to-patient ratios, but funding for the enforcement body, the California Department of Health Services, has already been cut and will suffer more if Whitman is elected.

When the nurses union used a similar approach of direct action against Schwarzenegger’s anti-worker propositions in 2005 by protesting at all of his public appearances, it resulted in a stinging defeat for each of his proposals. He had infuriated the nurses when, shortly after he was elected and beholden to the hospital industry that donated heavily to his campaign, he attempted to roll back the nurse-to-patient ratio law. He then called protesting nurses at a women’s conference “special interests,” stating, “I’m always kicking their butt in Sacramento.”

Many believe it was a mistake for Schwarzenegger to go after nurses, who rank high with the public for integrity and trust. But the Whitman campaign has decided to go all out attacking the nurses union. She is attempting to separate the “radical” union leadership from the rank and file by sending mailings to nurses, setting up an anti-CNA website, doing a misleading poll calling nurses at their homes, and setting up an advisory panel and inviting nurses to join. Whitman has spent close to $100 million of her own money so far and is apparently willing to spend what it takes to win the election.

LABOR NOTES RESOURCES

ORGANIZING IN A PANDEMIC

For news and guidance on organizing in your workplace during the coronavirus crisis, click here. »

CNA has invested considerable time and resources to educate its members about Whitman’s background. Along with the California Labor Federation’s Wall Street Whitman website, many flyers and publications outline Whitman’s pro-corporate record.

WAR OF PERCEPTION

As the “war” between the nurses and Whitman heats up, it’s apparent that Whitman is counting on the public’s perception, perpetuated by corporate-owned media, that unions and pensions are the reason the state is in such a financial mess. CNA, meanwhile, is counting on the public dislike of CEOs, their exorbitant salaries, and executive perks. Whitman served on the board of Goldman Sachs, one of the companies bailed out by taxpayers and viewed most negatively by the public. She was directly involved in decisions about executive bonuses and the mortgage-backed securities that are blamed as the main cause of the economic meltdown.

Currently CNA is the only union protesting in the streets against Whitman, but the nurses hope other unions will join in as they did in 2005 against Schwarzenegger. Apart from the firefighters who attended the Atherton rally, other unions for the most part have been quiet.

Even Democratic candidate Jerry Brown and his party have hardly responded to Whitman’s platform, hoping perhaps that the enormous amount of money she is pouring into her campaign will backfire. Unions are, however, donating heavily to Brown’s campaign, even though he has made no promises to support their issues, such as protecting public employee pensions.

CNA is planning a big event in Sacramento on August 26—the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Besides rallying the nurses, CNA hopes to embarrass Whitman and inform the public about her appalling failure to vote—a record that dishonors the work of the women’s suffrage movement.

Befriend Queen Meg on Facebook and see the Queen Meg picture of the day.


Eileen Prendiville is a staff nurse at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center.