New York: Building Workers Protest Memo Saying They Can Only Speak English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Jan 27 14:26:27 UTC 2007

NY1 News Jan 27, 2007

Building Workers Protest Memo Saying They Can Only Speak English
January 25, 2007

If New York is a melting pot why are some people being told they cannot
speak in their native tongue? Workers gathered in protest Thursday to
express that they were not okay with their employers decision. NY1s
Rebecca Spitz filed the following report. On a chilly Thursday during
their lunch hour, building workers protested in front of London Terrace
Gardens on West 23rd Street. The workers spoke up against a recent
internal memo telling employees, "You are reminded that is it company
policy, and common courtesy, that you speak English in all public areas as
well as on the radio."

They just put it by the time clock and that was the end of the story,"
said one employee. "I feel real bad," added another worker. Workers say
most of the building's staff are Hispanic, and nearly all are upset about
the memo -- the second in two years. Not only did the old one tell them
which language to use, it warned if they did not listen, they could be
fired. "We don't want to go through this, we want to come to work peaceful
without our jobs being on the line," said the buildings doorman, Ray Lind.
But as the workers were speaking out, the building's super was ducking out
-- back into the building without a word in any language.

Some tenants in the building said they did not even know this policy even
existed. And now that they do, they say it's over the top. "It does seem a
little intense, certainly," said one resident. "If they need to speak
Spanish to get clarification from another Spanish-speaking person, fine,
said another resident. As long as they can communicate in the language
they need to communicate in, when they need to communicate." The Workers'
Union 32 BJ says the policy is a violation of federal civil rights laws.
But the building management insists everyone's missing the point.

"It has been the longstanding policy of the building that employees speak
English while in work-related areas, when in contact with residents, and
when using building-issued walkie-talkies, said a spokesperson for the
buildings owner Rose Associates, in a written statement. The policy in no
way precludes employees from speaking languages other than English when
engaging in private conversations, while in locations that do not impact
the operation of building." But no matter how it's explained, it does not
quite sound right to the employees.

-Rebecca Spitz


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