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CNN NEWSROOM

Surviving the Threat of War; Wal-Mart Walk-Out; Wal-Mart Responds to Critics; Allen West Concedes; Quarterback Concussions

Aired November 20, 2012 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning to you. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining us. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

Here is what we're watching right now in the Middle East:

The Egyptian president, the man you just saw, Mohamed Morsi, says Israel will hold its aggression within hours. Israel earlier said it was holding off on a ground offensive as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to the region to help broker a deal.

An Arab League delegation crossed into Gaza from Egypt to visit stricken areas and rockets blast the southern Israel area of Beersheba, where casualties have been reported.

Let's go to Gaza City, because there's something going on there. As there has been for the past seven days now, right?

Anderson Cooper is there.

Good morning, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Carol, how are you?

Actually, just a very disturbing sight. We just saw now a group of men on motorcycles driving down the Main Streets here in Gaza City, dragging the body of a man behind them on a rope. Clearly, he was dead. They were saying he was a spy for Israel.

This kind of thing happens from time to time. We saw this several days ago when a man was shot out in public, again, accused of being a spy for the state of Israel. But literally it's a group of about six or seven guys on motorcycles who just drove down the street yelling "God is great", dragging this man, whose legs were bound by a rope, his hands above his head and he was clearly dead, being dragged down the main street in Gaza City.

So, a sign, obviously, of how volatile things are here.

COSTELLO: Any more rocket fire today in Gaza City? COOPER: There have been outgoing rockets, as you know. Because we also sue the -- they were fired toward Jerusalem. There was air raid warning sirens in Jerusalem as well. I believe it hit somewhere outside Jerusalem and also incoming as well, as many as five people have been killed here today alone. We've seen a number of explosions from incoming -- from IDF artillery or drone strikes or aircraft strikes, a couple off in that direction just recently.

So, the tit-for-tat, the back-and-forth continues despite talk for cease fire and despite talk of negotiations going on elsewhere here. The battle continues on in the streets of Gaza City, rockets continued to be fired outward toward Israel and strikes continue to be made here.

COSTELLO: Yes. I was just going to ask you that we heard word from Egypt that some sort of ceasefire has been reached. Israel is talking a little bit about it, but certainly not Hamas. So, I was going to ask you, the feeling there, is it even possible that a ceasefire is in the works? It's supposed to be -- it's supposed to come to fruition later today.

COOPER: Well, there's a lot of talk. I mean, I think people will believe it when they actually see it. This would just be, you know, a ceasefire of this immediate conflict, not a longer term resolution. Obviously, that would be much more complex.

But, you know, people here are just waiting to see what happens. A lot of people are not really going outside, staying indoors, obviously, as they have over the last several days, just trying -- waiting, hoping for some sort of resolution is agreed to.

COSTELLO: Anderson Cooper, reporting live from Gaza City this morning.

We have continuing coverage in this conflict. Coming up in the next hour of NEWSROOM, I'll talk with Avital Leibovich from the Israeli Defense Forces.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: We're coming up on the biggest shopping day of the year and already hundreds of workers at Wal-Mart are not planning to show up for work.

Some Wal-Mart employees say they aren't being paid enough. They're only allowed to work a few hours and the cost of their health insurance is far too high. They're going on strike to try to change all of that.

Color of Change is working with Wal-Mart workers and community members in an effort to improve working conditions and wages for more than a million Wal-Mart employees.

Rashad Robinson is the executive director of colorofchange.org. He joins me now.

Good morning.

RASHAD ROBINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COLOROFCHANGE.ORG: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: We're glad you're here.

What do you hope these strikes accomplish?

ROBINSON: I hope this strike actually helps to accomplish giving these workers more power at the workplace. And also being able to push Wal-Mart, who is an industry leader -- Wal-Mart has over 2.4 million employees, the next largest employer, which is Target, has a little over 300,000 employees. Wal-Mart is a leader in the industry, and they need to do better in treating their employees.

Full-time employees at Wal-Mart make about $15,000 a year. And what these workers are asking for is what all of us want, the ability to earn a living wage, the ability to take care of their children. And as Wal-Mart has raked in massive profits over the last couple of years and the Waltons, the family, the Waltons, have more money than the bottom 42 percent of Americans, they can do better for these workers.

COSTELLO: I'm just going to ask you a hard line question. I mean, I know we've just gotten out of a terrible recession. There aren't many jobs available.

Why -- why risk your job doing this? Not you specifically, but these workers that you're asking to strike.

ROBINSON: You know, what we're fighting for is not just jobs here, but good jobs. Wal-Mart actually as an employer has more people on public assistance than any employer in this country.

So, in fact, these workers are going to work every day and are not making enough money to make ends meet while the Waltons, the family, have more money than the bottom 42 percent of Americans. They have actually done very well through this recession. Wal-Mart has raked in massive profits while a number of other companies has suffered.

And as our economy increasingly goes to a service sector, where there's less and less manufactured jobs, we need to hold big companies like Wal-Mart accountable to not just rake in massive profits on the backs of everyday people, but to provide them the types of jobs where they can earn a living and be able to, you know, buy Christmas gifts for their family.

You know, all of us are going to be gathering with our families over the holidays, many people around the country. And we're going to be watching the stories like "The Christmas Carol" with the story of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit.

And in the industrial age, workers had no power. That's when those stories we're in.

We need to stand up for these employees and be able to hold Wal-Mart accountable. Not just because these workers deserve the ability to earn a living, but because all of us are carrying the burden. As the Waltons are raking in more and more money, all of us are paying the cost as so many of their employees also have to go on public assistance.

COSTELLO: Rashad Robinson, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thank you for having me.

COSTELLO: One of the groups leading the protest against Wal-Mart has put up a list of demands on its Web site.

OUR Walmart is calling for employees to be paid at least $13 an hour. Right now, employees make about 9 bucks an hour. They want the company to make more workers full time. Many of the workers of Wal- Mart were part time. And it's pushing for more affordable health care coverage.

So, let's get Wal-Mart's side of the story. The company's vice president of communications, David Tovar, joins me now from Bentonville, Arkansas, where the world's largest retailer is based.

Good morning.

DAVID TOVAR, V.P. COMMUNICATIONS, WAL-MART U.S.: Good morning, Carol. Thanks for having me on.

COSTELLO: We're glad you're here.

I believe Rashad just called Wal-Mart a Scrooge.

TOVAR: Yes, unfortunately, I think some of the things that he said aren't supported by the facts and I'm afraid he hasn't spent a lot of time looking at the data.

And I want to just correct one thing you said earlier. Actually, the majority of our workers are full time, not part time. And that's very unusual in the retail industry. In fact, we've got some of the best jobs in the retail industry. You know, our associates appreciate that.

Two hundred fifty thousand associates have worked for us for more than 10 years. Our turnover rate is lower than the retail industry average. Three-quarters of our store management team started as hourly workers. Last year, we promoted 165,000 people last year.

And, get this, 20 percent of the people we hired this year are rehires, meaning they worked for the company. They left and they came back because they realized they weren't getting a better deal somewhere else.

COSTELLO: So let me lay this now.

TOVAR: So, like I said, facts just don't support what you are saying.

COSTELLO: This is another allegation. You know ,the federal poverty level for a household of two is $15,130. The Web site Making Change at Walmart list the average salary for a Wal-Mart employee at $15,500. That's just above the poverty line.

Wal-Mart made a whole lot of money last year, hundreds of billions of dollars, hundreds of billions of dollars.

Why not at least negotiate with them so that they can live a better middle class lifestyle?

TOVAR: Well, first of all, you know, we can't negotiate with the unions right now because none of our associates are unionized. That's one of the things that we mentioned to the labor board last week when we filed a complaint against them.

But we've got great associates. We appreciate our associates. We know they're going to do a great job for us this holiday season. We wouldn't have been able to have the success we've had of late without the hard work of our associates.

And Black Friday is going to be awesome at Wal-Mart. That's what we're focused on right now, not paying attention to what the unions are saying --

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: So many of your employees are coming out and saying the working conditions, especially in Wal-Mart's warehouses, aren't exactly pristine. They talked about no air-conditioning in very warm climate. They say they don't make enough money. They say their health care costs could rise 34 percent next year and they just can't afford it on a $15,000 a year salary.

Are all of those employees just complaining?

TOVAR: Then again, Carol, don't believe everything -- yes, I would tell you don't believe everything you read in a union press release, because there are not a large majority of associates that are speaking out. It's a few people, and it's the same people that unions put up every year and have been doing it for years.

So, a lot of this is smoke and mirrors and is not having an impact. In fact, our associates have said to us why aren't we speaking out more, which is why I'm doing shows like yours and others, to really get our message out, because we want our customers to know they can count on us for low prices and broad assortment of great items on Black Friday, just like they always have. And that's what's really going on here.

COSTELLO: Well, let me ask you to address another charge out there. If workers complain, Wal-Mart retaliates against them.

TOVAR: Yes, absolutely not. We have a very strict retaliation policy, anti-retaliation policy. If any associates have those concerns, we want to hear about them and we'll address and take action if there's merit to it. But again, the fact is that this is a very small contingent of associates who were being, you know, propped up by the unions to make these kind of claims. The vast majority of our associates like working at Wal-Mart. They like the opportunities they get by working there and they're ready to serve our customers on Black Friday, period.

COSTELLO: Just a last question for you. I've wondered about this. The wage gap in this country continues to grow ever wider. You know, we hear from economists all the time, we need a strong middle class to make our overall economy stronger.

Is it Wal-Mart's responsibility to make sure that its employees can support a strong middle-class lifestyle?

TOVAR: We're working hard every day to provide more opportunities for associates. I mean go back to some of the things I said to you earlier about you know how people advance within our company.

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: But if they're making -- if -- if a lot of them are making $15,000 a year, you can't live a strong middle-class lifestyle on that. You just can't.

TOVAR: All right. But our jobs are like I said, are some of the best jobs in the retail industry. I -- I would --

(CROSSTALK)

COSTELLO: Even the ones that make $15,000 a year?

TOVAR: About $15,000 --

COSTELLO: Well, what's an average salary for a Wal-Mart employee then?

(CROSSTALK)

TOVAR: Our average wage is $12.40 an hour for a full-time associate. We also offer comprehensive benefits packages as low as $17 a pay period, which is very affordable. We also pay quarterly bonuses, which is something that not a lot of retailers do. And just this past quarter, 82 percent of eligible associates received a bonus.

And we know that they appreciate that. They also get a 10 percent discount card. So you have to factor in all those things when you're looking for how we're helping associates. And we are and they -- and they appreciate that at Wal-Mart.

COSTELLO: Dave Tovar from Wal-Mart, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

TOVAR: Thanks, Carol. I appreciate it.

COSTELLO: Concussions -- they're a growing problem in the NFL. Coming up we'll ask Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin what more the NFL can do to keep players safe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Fifty minutes past the hour.

Checking our "Top Stories" now -- Allen West, the Florida Republican Congressman running for re-election conceded to Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy this morning two weeks after the election. On his Facebook page West wrote "I will not ask my generous supporters to help fund a drawn out, expensive legal effort with little chance of success."

A former trader who lost Swiss banking giant UBS more than $2 billion has been found guilty. A London court convicted the man on two counts of fraud. He was acquitted on four other charges.

And it could be a choppy day for U.S. stocks. Investors are watching the Middle East conflict and Europe's debt problem. Stocks are down about 50 points right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Monday night football was the battle of the backup quarters. The San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears, the 9ers Colin Kaepernick -- who you say -- well he threw for two touchdown to beat the Bears. San Fran has the second best record in the NFC. The Bears they've lost two straight games.

(inaudible) Michael Vick though missing the Eagles game on Sunday and that makes three NFL starting quarterbacks who missed their games this week because of concussions. Vick and the Bears Jay Cutler actually stayed in the games after their injuries last week. The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says it's because of the, quote, "Warrior mentality football". He says "it needs to change" but of course, he's been saying that for quite some time now.

Curtis Martin is a Hall of Fame running back who played for the New York Jets and the New England Patriots. Welcome, Curtis.

CURTIS MARTIN, HALL OF FAME RUNNING BACK: Well welcome. Thank you. I'm sorry. Thank you.

COSTELLO: We're glad you're here.

MARTIN: You caught me off-guard.

COSTELLO: Oh no worries. I'd really like to ask you about these concussions especially in light of three quarterbacks suffering concussions to the point they cannot play.

MARTIN: Yes.

COSTELLO: Surely you saw this in your playing days, but they weren't publicized so maybe we didn't realize so many concussions happened.

MARTIN: Yes. Well, you know something? Unfortunately, football is a very violent sport, and concussions are almost an inherent part of the NFL. Any two time you have bodies colliding and heads colliding at that force, you're going to have some.

So I think the NFL, they're doing a good job on some of the precautionary type of rules or different regulations that they're implementing to try to protect the players because it's hard to protect the players in a situation -- in a dangerous situation and that's what the NFL is.

COSTELLO: Well, you know, I was going to ask you, even with the NFL's added safety precautions, even though it's required that, you know, if a guy gets hit on the head, he's checked out on the sideline. Jay Cutler came back in a game and threw the ball, he had double vision. It really doesn't stop players from continuing to play, which is even more dangerous for them. So what needs to happen?

MARTIN: Well, you know something? In my opinion I think as players we have to become more responsible because, you know, we're putting a lot of the responsibility on these doctors and on team physicians and on the NFL whereas I know for myself, when I had many -- all the concussions or the woozy moments in my career, just that warrior mentality that I think is damaging the players more so than anything, you know. I would tell my players to just pick me up an shake me until they could see my eyes, that I came back to, and I would go in the next play.

But, you know, that's the warrior mentality that I think as players we have to approach the game with a different mentality and think about our long-term career as well as our life afterwards.

COSTELLO: I'm just glad you're ok today.

MARTIN: Yes, me too.

COSTELLO: Before I let you go, I want to ask you, I know you teamed up with xBox to try to get kids off the couch during Thanksgiving break, to fight childhood obesity. Can you tell us what that's about?

MARTIN: Yes. Well, you know, there's a 60 million minute challenge that we're doing, and we're trying to get a million kids to participate in 60 minutes of activity on the xBox with Kinnect. That's the goal.

You know, the childhood obesity rate is skyrocketing in America and this is a way for kids to not only have fun but be active and burn some of those calories while they're having fun.

COSTELLO: Sounds good to me. Curtis Martin, thank you so much for being here with us this morning.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for having me.

COSTELLO: I loved your hall of fame speech. It was awesome. Thanks so much.

MARTIN: Thank you. Thank you. COSTELLO: The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts after a short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSTELLO: Stories we're watching right now in the NEWSROOM. To the countless rocket attacks and air strikes between Israel and Gaza -- why a week of violence may be close to ending.

In the meantime America's chief diplomat is expected in the Middle East within the hour. Hillary Clinton expected to meet with regional leaders beginning with Israel.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning to you. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello. The reality and the terror of living in a war zone.