THE ISSUE ENGLISH IN THE WORKPLACE
November 30, 2007
Estimated printed pages: 3
Under intense pressure from her Hispanic caucus, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has smothered legislation that would protect employers who require their workers to speak English.
Their objections came as a surprise to many members of Congress. Sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the measure had sailed through both the House and Senate. But when its underlying budget bill came before the House, the speaker pulled it from consideration, and so killed it.
One way of looking at Pelosi's political maneuvering is that it protects workers from employers who arbitrarily refuse to condone a foreign language being spoken under their roofs. In other words, she acted to protect those workers from discrimination.
That is the view of the Hispanic Democrats, as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed suit against the Salvation Army for having fired two Spanish-speaking workers who refused to learn even rudimentary English after being given a year to do so. The EEOC had concluded that the two women's duties -- sorting donated clothing -- did not require knowing English.
Alexander's legislation was a direct response to the travails of the Salvation Army.
There is another way of looking at the matter, however. And it is one that should put Pelosi and company to shame.
Effectively, it is this: that the federal government has no business deciding that non-English-speaking workers should be doomed to sort clothes for a living for the rest of their working days.
By acting to bar the Salvation Army from requiring its workers to have the ability to communicate in a common language, that is what the federal agency (and Pelosi and her fellow lawmakers, by extension) have done. No incentive, like keeping one's job, to learn the lingua franca. And, so, those workers get inexorably dimmer prospects for better paying work. For a better life.
In its pursuit of the Salvation Army, the EEOC is both patronizing and cruel to the women it seeks to protect.
As mere clothes-sorters, in the federal government's view, these workers should have no means of expressing concerns about their working conditions directly along to their supervisors. No way to suggest improvements. And no way to argue that a better-paying job opening should be theirs. No. They're just clothes-sorters. And so they shall remain.
It's not as though the EEOC and its congressional enablers haven't had their cruel "compassion" refused before. Just four years ago, a federal judge in Massachusetts upheld the Salvation Army's English-speaking policy as a proper effort to "promote workplace harmony." But few forces of nature are more impervious to resistance than a federal agency on a mission.
As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, TV Azteca, the second-largest network in Mexico, has started a 60-hour series in English-language acquisition. The series will appear on all the network's U.S. affiliates.
"Immigrants here in the U.S. can make up to 50 percent or 60 percent more if they speak both English and Spanish," said Jose Martin Samago, TV Azteca's U.S. news anchor. "This is something we have to do for our own people."
No one should deny that there are employers who act in discriminatory ways. Even the EEOC gets it right sometimes. It also has filed suit against a business owner who forbade Creole-speaking women from communicating in their own language, even during break time, while allowing Spanish. In protecting people from workplace discrimination, there are reasonable lines to be drawn.
The line drawn against the Salvation Army's policy just isn't one of them.
Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, whose Editorial Board consists of: Robert J. Dickey, John Zidich, Joanna Allhands, Monica Alonzo-Dunsmoor, Steve Benson, Phil Boas, Ward Bushee, Richard de Uriarte, Jennifer Dokes, Joe Garcia, Cindy Hernandez, Kathleen Ingley, Robert Leger, Doug MacEachern, Joel Nilsson, Ed Perkins, Robert Robb, Bob Schuster, Linda Valdez and Ken Western.
Edition: Final Chaser