Skip to comments.Some bosses don't want to hear Spanish
Posted on 12/11/2007 3:38:42 PM PST by Dubya
LANGUAGE BARRIER Some bosses don't want to hear Spanish Lawsuits fuel debate over English-only rules at work
WHEN the captain heard three crew members on his container ship chatting in Spanish during breaks, he became enraged. He then brandished a knife to enforce his standing orders: Speak only English on board.
The incident, settled for $31,000 after a discrimination suit was filed in a Houston federal court, is an extreme example of cases fueling a growing debate over English-only policies in the workplace, experts say.
''It's a lightning-rod issue, a lot of people get upset," said Rudy Sustaita, a veteran attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit against the Houston ship management firm that hired the captain.
And a similar suit earlier this year has sparked a showdown on Capital Hill, where Senate Republicans approved legislation to block the EEOC's efforts to dismantle English-only rules imposed by private companies.
The agency insists the few cases it brings challenge the most ''egregious" policies, where English is mandatory even though there is no legitimate business need to do so.
The English-only issue has been pulled into the divisive debate over immigration, and promises to be a pivotal issue in the 2008 elections.
Measures about English usage are not just popping up in the workplace. So far, 30 states have passed laws making English their official language and others are pending.
Debate boycott In Washington, activists are lobbying to make English the official language of government and end the printing of bilingual voting ballots.
''We're not against other languages, but we don't want to create an English-optional society, either," said Tim Schultz, director of governmental relations at U.S. English Inc., a conservative group at the forefront of the English-only movement.
Congressman Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, boycotted Sunday's presidential debate on the Spanish-language Univision network because he considered it ''pandering of the lowest order."
''I don't believe we should be encouraging the bilingualism of the United States," Tancredo said Friday.
Activists say requiring English in the workplace often is a contentious issue in Houston, where more than 90 languages can be heard among the large populations of immigrants who have settled here from around the world.
''It's fairly common in places of employment where the majority of the workers speak English," said Laura Boston, an organizer for the nonprofit Houston Interfaith Worker Justice Center. ''Employers will tell their employees they're not allowed to speak their own language."
Boston said requiring English is used as an ''annoyance tactic" with workers, and is ''just part of the abuse you sometimes get from some employers."
The EEOC says companies can require workers to speak English to communicate with customers, co-workers or supervisors who only speak English. English also may be required in the workplace to promote safety, aid in cooperative work assignments or allow supervisors to evaluate an employee whose duties include speaking with customers.
Salvation Army suit ''The cases we pursue are for what we call 'blanket policies,' " said David Grinberg, an agency spokesman in Washington, D.C., who cited suits involving workers who were not allowed to speak other languages in the lunchroom, during calls to family members or in the company parking lot.
The most recent controversy erupted in the wake of an EEOC suit against the Salvation Army in April, filed after the charitable organization fired two employees for speaking Spanish while they sorted clothing in a thrift shop in Massachusetts.
In June, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., sponsored a bill that passed the Senate, but not the House of Representatives, that would prevent the EEOC from enforcing rules against English-only in the workplace.
The EEOC has brought 29 English-only suits the last 11 years, according to agency records, while worker complaints have dropped from a high of 236 in 2002 to 125 last year, officials said.
''The bottom line is, the EEOC rarely files English-only litigation, and we don't receive that many allegations," Grinberg said. ''When we do file suit, once or twice a year, it's an egregious instance where there is no business necessity."
EEOC officials in Houston say there have been relatively few lawsuits filed over English in the workplace, since most companies resolve complaints outside of court.
''I've been the senior lawyer here for 19 years, and we've had less than half a dozen English-only language cases during that time," said James Sacher, the EEOC's regional attorney in the Houston office. ''It's hard to generalize, but often if there's a problem presented in a charge (complaint), there's a sensible, confidential resolution that occurs during our investigative process."
Crippling decision? Union officials say requiring the Houston workforce to speak English on the job would cripple the local construction industry.
''I don't know that any general contractor union or not would go so far as to have an English-only policy, because they wouldn't get the job built," said Dale Wortham, president of the AFL-CIO council in Harris County. ''That's because you're going to have at least 50 percent of your labor force that doesn't speak English."
Some customers don't either.
This is one of my hot button issues. To me it comes down
to respect. Why be in a country that you dont want to be a part of? The answer to that is they want to take and have no desire to give back. Enough is enough already.
The English language is used here. Period.
I like speak English everywhere in USA.
I used to work for a guy from Portugal and during a time that a long time friend worked for him as well, they would switch from Portuguese to English in mid-sentence if they heard someone walk into the room. I did not care at the time if they did it or not, but I had a great deal of respect for them for doing so.
It’s legal not to hire someone that doesn’t speak Spanish.
You are correct. I used to manage the bar at a prominent Country Club. Most of our waiters were legal immigrants from South America or the Philippines. They all spoke English very well.
We had a space where the coffee, tea, bus carts, etc were kept. There was a divider between that space and what we called the ‘Grill Room’ which was the golfers everyday bar.
The waiters used to gather back there and chat in their native language and they were loud. I constantly had to tell them to speak English when they were where they could be heard. What they did outside the clubhouse was their business.
I don’t think they did it on purpose but boy did the members get perturbed over it.
Where I worked Mexicans who spoke perfect English would carry on conversations in Spanish in rooms with English speakers. Quite rude.
FWIW, in later years, I have heard anyone who can that has had to work for the guy jumps ship at the first chance. I guess he will get his wish one day. Sad.
It's rude because many people use it as "code" when gossiping about others within earshot. Even if that's not what they're doing, it raises that suspicion.
So if the employees are using Spanish to make racist and sexist comments about their co-workers, they have “free speech” not afforded other employees?
That was always my explanation to them....that it was rude.
I think any empoyer should be able to demand english only in the workplace.
HOWEVER, I think it is a little extreme for an employer to get so upset his workers were speaking spanish ON THEIR BREAK. It’s none of his business what these employees are saying or what language they are saying it in while on break. I think employers should leave employees alone while on their break.
The solution to this is simple. An English-only speaker needs to file a EEOC suit claiming a “hostile work environment” and from Spanish speakers.
If an employee doesn't like an employer's English-only policy, the employee is perfectly free to seek employment elsewhere. Likewise, if an employer does not want his employees to speak Spanish, he should be perfectly free to let them go if they do so.
I feel the same way whether the employer wants an English-only or a Spanish-only policy. This is not something the government needs to meddle with.
Yes, that’s exactly right.
I have a funny story to tell. I once had a friend that was originally from panama. He was wealthy. We used to go to bars once in a while. ONe time his relative from panama was visiting him and the three of us were out. There was a woman in the bar that was a body builder, I mean steroid use big time. My friend and his buddy started making fun of her in spanish. I don’t know spanish so I didn’t know what was going on or what exactly they said. But it must’ve been pretty raunchy because the muscle chick turned around and said “ I know spanish” plus a few other things in spanish that I don’t know what it was, and then beat the hell out of him right there in the bar. I mean she thrashed him really good. The bouncers came over and dragged the three of us out the front door.
I asked the two of them what the heck they were saying. THey wouldn’t tell me. So it must’ve been really bad.
I have often walked in on political discussions at my local bodega. Because I don't look hispanic they went on thinking I couldn't understand the language. Sometimes I leave without saying anything. A few times though, I couldn't help myself when they were ragging on the country. I would let them ramble on until I was ready to leave and then in perfect Spanish, I would tell them what to stick in those dark private places and what they could do with themselves. After they swam back where they came from of course.
I can name one major US city where it is almost impossible to get a job if you don’t speak Spanish...El Paso, Tx.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.