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Transit Strike; British Chain Embraces Same-Sex Unions

Aired December 21, 2005 - 13:30   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, this just in to the CNN Center. You are looking at fresh pictures right now out of Baltimore County where police there say two police officers have been shot in the Randallstown area. We don't yet about how badly the officers were hurt, but according to the Associated Press, WBAL Radio up there is reporting that police are looking for a brown Toyota Camry. We are going to stay on top of this story, so stay with us.
In the meantime, also covering another big story up in the Northeast, the transit strike in New York. It is not just commuters who are feeling the sting of the New York transit strike. The week before Christmas is a crucial week for stores, and restaurants and bars. And if employees and customers don't show up, they're can be serious consequences. Officials say the strike is costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars a day.

So joining me now from New York, Nancy Ploeger of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and pottery store owner, Kip Veasey. Good to have both of you.

Kip, this has got be a serious situation for you. What's the impact been so far these last two days?

KIP VEASEY, "OUR NAME IS MUD": It's been devastating for us. I mean, yesterday was a day we were down 75 percent in business from the day before. And our business this time of year really increases exponentially as we get closer to Christmas, and so we're really looking at about 175 percent we're down yesterday and today. It's just devastating.

LIN: How many employees showed up?

VEASEY: Almost all of our employed showed up. Yes,it was great. It one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, just the resiliency of these people, that they're almost in defiance. They were getting to work, and getting to work pretty close to on time. So it was great.

LIN: Nancy, the New York comptroller is reporting that New York City could lose $300 million in business by tomorrow alone. What are you hearing from business owners? Because you managed a survey a bunch of them.

NANCY PLOEGER, CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: Yes, well we had actually polled many of our members, who then responded and told us about their different trials and tribulations yesterday. And of course getting their employees in was one of the major efforts. And many of them had known the strike was coming and had tried to prepare vans and other vehicles to try to get their employees into Manhattan. One of our members, Jeffrey Bernstein (ph) who owns 11 Buritavilles (ph) this week. And expects to lose 60,000 next week, and being that it's a short week, and that doesn't even include the expenses that he's incurred in transporting his employees in from all the boroughs to get here to the city. So I do not think that the comptroller's numbers are that far off.

LIN: Wow. Now, Kip, what are you going to do in the next few days?

VEASEY: Well, we're just going to hope that it ends. I mean, there's very little we can do at this point. We just hope people go out to where our shops are and try to do their last-minute shopping there, go to our Web site at and buy whatever you can there, and...

LIN: What if this stretches out a week, two weeks, maybe even a month? Kip, can you hang in there, businesswise?

VEASEY: Yes, the damage is going to be done in the next couple days. We work all year long for these next three days, next four days. And this is really where we either make money this year or we don't. And you know, that's the crime in this whole thing, is that the timing of this thing. What happens next week is not as big a deal for us economically, as what's happening now.

LIN: So for you, it's got to end now?

VEASEY: It's got to end right now. It's awful. It's awful.

LIN: Nancy, how does this compare with 9/11, post-9/11?

PLOEGER: Well, there's a lot of similarities, definitely. After 9/11, of course, all of lower Manhattan, below 14th Street, was directly impacted, and many of those businesses were not able to open for over a month. And if you do the comparison right now, of businesses that were there pre-9/11 to post-9/11, you'll find a good number of them, especially the small business owners, are gone. And I dare say that if this strike goes on for a month, we may see some of the same circumstances.

LIN: You know, some of the commuters, the pedestrians and the bikers coming across the Brooklyn Bridge were saying that these transit workers were being unpatriotic. There were security workers having to go and protect government buildings. There were hospital workers trying to -- walking maybe two hours to get to their patients. Unpatriotic. Those are pretty strong words, Nancy. How do you feel about this strike from a personal perspective?

PLOEGER: Well, from a personal perspective, I think unpatriotic may be a little bit strong. But I think just in reflection, and also based on the responses we've gotten from our members, most of them feel that they should have stayed at the bargaining table and have not gone on strike. Just look at the teachers union. They didn't have a contract for months, and they didn't walk off. They stayed and stayed the course until the contract was negotiated. And most of our members, as myself, we feel that the workers should stay and negotiate and should not strike. This is hurting every single New Yorker.

LIN: Uh-huh. Kip, you know what it's like to try to make a living. These transit workers are saying, look, we're just trying to fight for our benefits, trying to keep our health care, trying to make a little more money for our families. Do you sympathize with them?

VEASEY: To a degree, yes. But the main point they're making right now is they're not talking about today. They're talking about the next generation. They want to make sure the next generation is taken care of. But a lot of businesses are going to go out of business right now. And they're hurting everybody right now. And that's the real crime in this whole thing.

LIN: All right, Kip Veasey, thank you very much. Nancy Ploeger with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, thanks for your time. I know this means a lot to both of you. And I hope both of you stay tuned, because we are expecting to hear from the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, at the top of the hour on this transit strike. We're going to bring you his remarks live.


LIN: Well, a pop superstar ties the know in a history-making affair. We're going to have the pictures and all the highlights from Elton John's nuptials when LIVE FROM returns.


LIN: The "Rocket Man" is now a married man. Pop superstar Elton John tied the knot with his longtime love, Canadian filmmaker David Furnish, today in Britain. John decided against his usual flamboyant attire, as you can see, opting instead for a traditional black suit.

The two were among hundreds of same-sex couples that took advantage of Britain's new law allowing civil unions. So say you wanted to get a gift for the newly married Mr. and Mr. Where would you go? Well one store in Britain is embracing the same-sex phenomenon. CNN's Jim Boulden takes us there.


JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now that civil partnerships or gay unions are legal in Britain, why not sell gay and lesbian wedding cards or commitment rings for the couple themselves? That's how Britain's second largest supermarket chain, ASDA, sees it.

ED WATSON, ASDA: It's delivering something that customers actually want and actually need. And there's a direct request from customers and also colleagues wanting same-sex wedding cards. We've actually delivered that.

BOULDEN: But ASDA is owned by Wal-Mart, long criticized for banning some magazines and books it feels will offend certain customers. BRYAN ROBERTS, ANALYST: There's obviously, you know, some sort of self-appointed guardian of family values in the USA and it monitors very carefully the product that it puts into its stores so as not to offend some of its, you know, key customers. Observers from the U.K. obviously find contradiction that at the same time they can sell guns and ammunition.

BOULDEN (on camera): ASDA says it didn't seek permission from Wal-Mart to sell these gay weddings cards. They say it's a store-by- store decision and that 20 ASDAs will start selling these cards this week.

(voice-over): We don't know what Wal-Mart makes of these pink and blue cards, addressed to "Mr. and Mr." or "Mrs. and Mrs." The company did not respond to our request for a comment. But it does have a policy of catering to local taste.

A Wal-Mart in China, for instance, sells live turtles to be eaten by customers. And it hasn't interfered with ASDA selling skin magazines or stopped it from cutting prices of certain goods around holidays.

WATSON: Condom sales, I mean, we rolled back the price of condoms sort of fairly recently. For Valentine's Day, we know condom sales go up. Over the Christmas period, what's interesting, is afterwards, the pregnancy testing kits, also the sales go up after Christmas, as well.

BOULDEN: It unlikely Elton John popped into ASDA to pick up his wedding rings, but he might just get a few "Mr. and Mr." cards from there.

That could help boost sales for an ASDA product unlikely to grace a Wal-Mart shelf any time soon.

Jim Boulden, CNN, Manchester, England.


LIN: Well, it's the thought that counts. CNN's Paula Newton actually witnessed all the fanfare today in London. Paula, what was it like to be there?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have one caveat. They wouldn't allow anyone in the ceremony except for a very intimate few, and that's the way Elton John choreographed this. He really wanted to step out of character for this moment.

He wanted to prove that this was not about flamboyance, this wasn't about the show, but that this was about something that really means something to him, his relationship of 12 years with David Furnish.

So, I mean, the atmosphere -- it was really very subdued, very quiet. There were certainly lots of well-wishers, but it was not a circus, not a celebrity circus like we're used to. It was, really, quite dignified. And they were really beaming when they came out.

And we have been talking in the last couple days about how Elton John went out of his way to make sure that he took a stand on gay rights in this country. He wrote an editorial in "The Observer" really, truly stepping out of his role as entertainer and getting a little political on us, Carol.

LIN: Well, Paul, is it controversial there in Britain as it is in America?

NEWTON: Not quite so much. The British government worked hard to make sure that this stayed right out of the church's domain. Remember, these are civil partnerships. It's gay marriage in all but name, and that kind of gives a nod to the conservative groups. It's only a significant minority that is against this according to polls, and by and large, from what we saw today, people here embrace this.

There weren't any protesters, although earlier the in the week when couples in Northern Ireland were allowed to enter in to these civil partnerships, there were some quite heated protests. This really was what Elton John wanted it to be. It was non-controversial, and that was the point he was trying to make about it.

LIN: Any word on the honeymoon?

NEWTON: They keep saying that oh, we're going to put it off, you know, we're going to go to the Caribbean in the summer. Really what's going on now is they're all getting gathered at his big, huge estate just outside of Windsor. It's supposed to be rivaling Windsor Castle.

He's reportedly spent $2 million. I hear of pink champagne flowing, 700 guests. I'd imagine we'd start hearing rumors of what the party is going to be like. Put it this way, Carol. I'll be willing to bet that it's not the dignified ceremony that we saw today in Windsor.

I'm sure they'll be having a lot of fun. All the pop reporters here, pop music reporters here tell me if anyone can put on a party, it's Elton John so let's stay tuned and watch it for that.

LIN: Oh, yes. Break out the feather boa. All right. Thanks, Paula.

Well, there are big worries in Britain today. There aren't enough penguins in this picture you're about to see. That's because one was stolen and the story of Toga, the penguin, could get worse. We're going to tell you all about that after a quick break.


LIN: In New Zealand, rescuers are hoping their efforts will pay off after refloating more than 100 beached whales today. Volunteers, including tourists, rushed to New Zealand's South Island to help with the rescue. About 15 whales died before volunteers could refloat them. Rescuers used today's high tide to help send the rest of the mammals back out to sea. Three hours later, a handful of whales tried to swim back to shore and reground themselves, but the volunteers formed a human chain to force the whales back to open water.

Well, a shark made part of a transatlantic race very scary for Tara Remington and Iain Rudkin. They were taking part in the 2500 Nautical Mile Atlanta Rowing Race when a 12-foot shark began to ram their boat. The pair huddled at the bottom of the boat for a very long 15 minutes.

Well, I've got one of them on the telephone with me to talk about their close call. Tara, are you OK?

TARA REMINGTON, BOAT ATTACKED BY SHARKS: Yes. We are now. We're a bit, you know, paranoid. Every little ripple in the water now is something that makes us catch our breath a bit. But, yes, no, we're OK and the boat is fine.

LIN: What happened?

REMINGTON: It's hard to explain. I think it must have just been a rogue shark, just some really odd behavior. We were in our sea anchor, because the winds were too high to row. And the shark just sort of came up from nowhere and circled under the boat, oh, probably 10 or 15 times backwards and forwards. And every time it went under the boat, it gave the boat a real thump.

LIN: I mean, a hard enough thump, Tara, a hard enough thump to possibly turn it over?

REMINGTON: Yes, that's why we eventually made our way into the cabin, because it went around to the bow line and it gave either -- it either bit the line or got stuck in the line and the boat searched forward and really sort of got quite unstable. And then it went back around to the rudder and it was ramming the rudder as well. So we got into the cabin, thinking, you know, if the shark did tip the boat over that was the best place we could be. But...

LIN: Because you wouldn't end up in the water? Because you'd be protected by an enclosure?

REMINGTON: Yes, we could at least seal it. But, of course, the problem with these boats is they're designed for speed. And so the thickest wall that we have is, you know, six millimeter plywood.

LIN: So what was going through your mind?

REMINGTON: Oh, gosh, you know, it was just -- it was really quite terrifying. But there was absolutely nothing we could do. You know, we did get in the cabin. We have a satellite phone. And so we called the race organizers and spoke as quietly as we could and just said, you know, this is our position. And you know, we may be here and we may not be here in a few hours. LIN: Oh, my gosh. And it took them quite a while to get to you, too.

REMINGTON: It did, yes.

LIN: Well, thank goodness, Tara, that you're still alive and well. And, you know, a lot braver than most of us would be and a lot calmer than most of us would be under the same circumstances. All right, don't know what attracted that shark, but good for you. Thanks very much, Tara. Happy holidays.

REMINGTON: Well, maybe it was because of our -- who knows. We were having two minute noodles for lunch. Maybe it wanted to be invited.

LIN: Yes, well, I've known people are pretty angry when they're not invited. All right, Tara -- Tara Remington, good luck to you, thank you so much.

Well, zoo officials on England's Isle of Wight are begging for somebody to return a baby penguin, snatched from the zoo last weekend. They say Toga won't take food from people and could be severely dehydrated by now and may not survive much longer. The 3-month-old penguin was stolen Saturday from a compound at Amazon World in southern England. Officials worry that someone took the bird thinking it would make a cute gift, which could lead to tragic results.


DEREK CURTIS, ZOO OWNER: Please, if someone's got the baby, if you're out there and you've got it somewhere, we don't care about the police being involved. We just want you to put it in a box, tell us where it is, tell us where we can collect it and we'll be there immediately.


LIN: It's got to happen today. The zoo's manager says tomorrow could be too late for little Toga.

Well, a commuter's nightmare in New York. More on the transit strike straight ahead. We're expecting to hear from the city's Mayor Michael Bloomberg in just a few moments and we are going to bring you his remarks live once he begins.



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