English-Only Policies: Our Readers Talk Back

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Aug 25 13:49:10 UTC 2007

English-Only Policies: Our Readers Talk Back
Friday, August 24, 2007 7:00 AM
by Jay Schleifer

Two Fridays ago, I devoted this column to charges of discrimination
brought by the EEOC against, of all people, the Salvation Army. The
cause was the Army's Framingham, Massachusetts, branch's firing of two
Hispanic workers for speaking their native language in the workplace.
The Army has a policy of using English-only at work, which they say
maintains workplace discipline and promotes productivity. Needless to
say (and I knew it was coming, based on your response to similarly
controversial columns), my e-mail box was made rich with replies
within 48 hours. You also set a new record for Daily Advisor for
"Share Your Thoughts" postings on the website.

Today, I'd like to summarize that response. The top line, or bottom
line, if you will, was that readers overwhelmingly supported our
position that the Army was right to terminate these workers, by a
margin of 8 to 1. However, the reasons you felt it was right were
downright surprising. I wrote the column on the theme of
discrimination. The EEOC, you see, has a longstanding bias against
English-only rules unless there is a specific business reason that
they're needed. But you saw it more as a matter of bad manners,
practicality, and even overreaching by the bureaucracy!

(In publishing your emailed comments, we'll follow our usual practice
of calling you Reader A, B, C, and so on to protect our emailers'

Reader A put the manners issue succinctly. "We seem so absorbed in
trying to please all ethnic groups," she writes, "that we forget our
own fundamental basic moral standards, one of which is manners …. You
should speak the language of the majority of the people of the
workplace, particularly in an open forum or meeting, not for
discrimination or policy purposes, but because [not doing so] makes
people uncomfortable."

Reader B amplified this comment. "I think it's simply rude and shows a
lack of respect. If we went to France, wouldn't we have to learn
French? The same rule should apply in the United States."

Reader C does refer to a French-speaking market, Montreal, and notes
that it's not considered discrimination there if employers insist that
you speak French. "We go overboard in trying to defend some of our
freedoms," he writes. "English is the language of the job market. If
one wants to speak another language, they can do so when not at work."

Reader D grew up in a Salvation Army church family, and says he still
has his grandmother's bonnet and tambourine. He defends the Army's
policy because it creates teamwork. "I totally agree in the universal
language of English … in [creating] a unity and pulling everyone
together," he writes.

Reader E finds fault with the EEOC in bringing charges over an
English-only matter. "I think EEOC is trying to justify its existence
because it's done a good job educating the public and …American
businesses now work to be inclusive. Attacking English-only policies
is something [for EEOC] to do."

Reader F represents the smaller, but similarly passionate opposition
to my view. He thinks that the Army's arguments for the policy are
baseless and, in fact, undercut the organization's noble mission and
image. "I believe [the Army] would be hard pressed to demonstrate that
this policy actually maintained or enhanced either discipline or
productivity," he writes. And "[speaking English-only] is not a
condition of employment."

"First amendment rights," he concludes, "are not left at the employer's door."

If you'd like to read these comments in their entirety, we've posted
them (with identifying data removed) on our website, along with the
original article. You can also read the bylined Web comments made the
day the article appeared.

Thanks to all who contributed to this lively and provocative
conversation. I promise to do my best to keep igniting such
discussions if you promise to keep adding fuel to my fires!

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