Minnesota: Macy's workers claim supervisors banned Somali language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed Sep 17 14:28:01 UTC 2008

Macy's workers claim supervisors banned Somali language

 They are members of the merchandise team at Macy's Southdale store.
Eight Somali immigrants who unpack the boxes fresh off the trucks --
preparing clothing and accessories for display. Sometimes while they
work they chat in their native Somali language. Or at least they used
to. "Our supervisor came to us and she told us we cannot speak
Somali," say Deqa Adan, a Macy's employee of two years. Adan and her
co-workers say they were told their conversations in Somali are
offensive to their English speaking co-workers.

The employees say they work behind the scenes at Macy's and have no
direct contact with customers. "We speak to the bosses and our
co-workers with English. We only speak Somali with each other," says
Adan. Macy's employee Fadumo Abdi says the Somali workers protested to
their supervisor. "We beg her, please, that's not right." When that
didn't work, Abdi says they took their concerns to their supervisor's
supervisor, and finally to the store's human resources director. "She
say if you want to leave you can quit your job. If you want to stay
you have to forgo your language inside Macy's."

The threats of dismissal were very real to the workers, according to
Kenya McKnight, communications director for CAIR-MN, the Minnesota
chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "There would be
a formal process if not complied, which would be a verbal warning, a
written warning and then termination."  The workers say they were told
it was a new company policy -- a contention supported by meeting notes
provided to KARE by CAIR-MN.  The notes, purportedly from a Macy's
supervisor during an August 11th staff meeting, state: "It is Macy's
East policy that a common language is spoken during work - therefore,
effective immediately all associates must speak English while

If authentic, the notes "directly contradict" Macy's actual policy,
according to Jennifer McNamara, a local spokeswoman for Macy's.

McNamara says she hasn't seen the notes - and can't confirm their
validity - but "we do not have an English language only policy."

McNamara says Macy's takes the allegations of the Somali employees
seriously, and "will thoroughly investigate this specific allegation."
She says any Macy's employee is "welcome" to speak in his or her
native language during work hours.

The employees are asking for both an apology from Macy's and a clear
message that they can speak to each other in Somali, without fear of


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