Belabored Podcast #4: “Talk To Someone Like Me”

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On the fourth episode of Belabored, Sarah and Josh discuss the past week’s labor news, from restaurant workers striking over wage theft in Philly, to protests over the deadly factory building collapse in Bangladesh. Then they interview Hyatt hotel housekeeper Cathy Youngblood, a leader in the hospitality union UNITE HERE (full disclosure: Josh’s former employer), about labor’s battle with the hotel giant, Obama’s choice of a Hyatt heir to run the Commerce Department, and her “Someone Like Me” campaign calling for a worker to be added to Hyatt’s board. Excerpts from that interview are below, followed by links to some of the articles they discuss.


“Talk To Someone Like Me”: an interview with Cathy Youngblood

Cathy Youngblood on why she wants to join Hyatt’s Board of Directors:

I really think that the board members, and of course their executives right under them, do not know what actually goes on in the hotel. So this would be an education on both our parts. They would learn from me and I would learn from them…they say that we are Hyatt family…Well, don’t keep closing the door on family.

On hotel housekeeping work:

In the hotel we are first responders…We’re treated like we’re invisible, but we’re really not…housekeeping work is extremely fast-paced. This is not the kind of work you do in your home, OK? You can have anywhere from thirteen to twenty-eight rooms [per day] depending on which Hyatt you’re working for. It’s very hard, it’s very heavy. By the time you finish, you’re drained with sweat, I mean all of your clothes are drained with sweat…All of the housekeepers are in pain every day…and then you injure yourself…

In housekeeping, I do things like push a linen cart over carpeted hallways, and it weighs 120 pounds of more…By the time I’m on my sixth room I have lower back pain—this is very common …Sometimes when I do the bathroom, in order to get it really clean, I do use a toothbrush to reach between the tiles…It’s very detailed work…[We have] a 100 point inspection sheet…We have to pass this by 94 percent every day… We are the ones who keep the guests coming back and a lot of people don’t understand what it is that we do.

On Hyatt heir and board member Penny Pritker’s (then rumored, since official) nomination as Obama Commerce Secretary:

If she is appointed and accepted as Secretary of Commerce, well, that’s a good thing and I wish her all the best. But I do wish that she would sit down and talk to me. I think she could learn a lot. Of course I could learn a lot from her…I wish her the best, but oh my! Her and the rest of the board, wouldn’t it be just dandy if they could sit down with me and understand what the problem is? Especially before she exits the board, if that’s the case.

On the progress of UNITE HERE’s multi-year struggle with Hyatt:

We’re very far apart on some issues…I think that we’re winning. And I think it’s a process of, we’re wearing Hyatt down with the truth. I see us winning everything that we’re asking for…I have not given up the fight on getting fitted sheets and better tools…There are a lot of instances where if they would just sit down and talk to someone like me, you know that would really help…

We’re going to settle for what we need to make our jobs safer. We’re going to settle for what we want…Hyatt is looked upon as the industry leader. People are looking to Hyatt…Hyatt’s business model, as far as I am concerned, needs to change.

For much more, check out episode four.


Links to Follow Along At Home

Sarah on Hyatt’s use of iPods to monitor housekeepers’ productivity.

Josh on Hyatt housekeepers who charge they were fired for taking down photos of themselves.

Sarah on May Day 2013.

Josh on Walmart’s responsibility for November’s deadly factory fire in Bangladesh.


Stories We Wish We’d Written

Esther Wang, “As Wal-Mart Swallows China’s Economy, Workers Fight Back” (The American Prospect)

Nicole Aschoff, “Imported From Detroit” (Jacobin)


Subscribe to the Belabored RSS feed here. Subscribe and rate on iTunes here. Tweet at @dissentmag with #belabored to share your thoughts, or join the conversation on Facebook. Belabored is produced by Natasha Lewis.

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The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.