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    Some bosses don't want to hear Spanish
    Lawsuits fuel debate over English-only rules at work


    By JAMES PINKERTON
    Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle


    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."

    james.pinkerton@chron.com
    "In Tempore"

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    Que? NO comprendo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jonnyirons2 View Post
    Que? NO comprendo.

    moi aussi,je ne comprends pas,lol.speak french.


    more seriously,some years ago i was at the airport of Miami and they spoke in spanish there for the flights.wow,scary i do not speak spanish.
    "sauver ou périr"

    "courage et dévouement"

    2 french mottoes in french fire service.

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    Actually,US flag vessels are only suppoed to hire people with a working knowledge of the English language.This is pretty much commonsense in that when flames are blowing out the engine room doors and hatches,you don't want to have to have the vessel's officers stumbling through half remembered phrases or thumbing through"You Too can Speak Sioux in 30 Minutes or Less!"phrase books.
    You want the crew to comprehend the orders during emergencies to bring it under control or safely abandon ship.
    Now,if they weren't on duty and just hanging around "coking and joking",then the Captain is in the wrong waving his toothpick around like that.

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    Unhappy Most have no idea...

    If you dont live in one of the areas where the world has changed so drastically over the last 10 years you cannot possibly understand how this issue has impacted society to the extent that it has.

    Ordering food, asking directions, applying for a service job such as a bank teller...

    From the bulletin board out front at schools being ALL in spanish to not being able to communicate with people (contractors) at your jobsite because they speak ZERO english... i mean ZERO.

    For example not one of the men in a 7 man work crew may not/did not know how to say "FIRE" when the piperack above them was rolling in flames.

    Those not living in this new environment have no idea how this issue has changed life in places like...say, in Houston for example.

    It's a whole new world. Times are a changin'....its only a matter of time before it is your neighborhood, your town or your city. Wait till your child HAS to learn spanish in school because it is a mandatory requirement of the school district. Wait until your wife cannot get a job because she is not bilingual, until your child cannot get a scholarship because so many are for hispanics or minorities or under prividelged children or are cultural based etc. etc. And by "cultural based" i do not mean anglo-saxon cultural based.

    Yea times are a changin'...
    Last edited by Raughammer1; 12-12-2007 at 01:37 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Raughammer1 View Post
    ........may not/did not know how to say "FIRE" when the piperack above them was rolling in flames.
    FIRE........fuego, disparar, incendio
    __________________
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    The official language of air traffic controllers all over the world is....

    Drum roll, please.....

    English.

    If I were to move to Mexico, France, Thailand or anywhere else in the world.. I would have to learn the language... even if I went to New Zealand, England or Australia!
    Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 12-12-2007 at 08:25 AM. Reason: spelling correction, typed before coffee!
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo View Post
    The official languahe of air traffic controllers all over the world is....

    Drum roll, please.....

    English.

    If I were to move to Mexico, France, Thailand or anywhere else in the wolrd.. I would have to learn the language.. even if I went to New Zealand, England or Australia!
    My good Sir, how closeminded and racist of you. And coming from such an open-minded place as our fair People's Republik where nothing can be done to offend anyone except those who go against the PC crowd.

    You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You must now report to our new re-education camps where you will become more "open minded" and appreciate those of other cultures and not be so racist and jingoistic in your thoughts.
    "Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." Will Rogers

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptainGonzo View Post
    The official language of air traffic controllers all over the world is....

    Drum roll, please.....

    English.

    If I were to move to Mexico, France, Thailand or anywhere else in the world.. I would have to learn the language... even if I went to New Zealand, England or Australia!
    Cap, concerning the ATC bit, I have a wee story about how effective the English language was during an incident that took place over US/Canadian air space on the afternoon of 11 September 2001.

    I was working at the Rescue Coordination Centre that day and around 1pm we received a telephone call from NORAD indicating that two Korean Air 747's were enroute to somewhere on the east coast. They were flying in from Korea, one was a fully laden cargo, the other a passenger job.

    When they approached Fairbanks ATC the lead a/c called up to indicate who/what they were. Somewhere in the "translation" ATC thought that one of the a/c was indicating a "Code 75" {hijack in progress}. After several attempts to confirm this, we got the call to say Stand Down SAR on Any ELT Reports in the Alaska/Yukon air traffic corridors.

    Whitehorse ATC also called us, all in a panic because she was reporting that a bunch of RCMP SWAT types had just invaded her tower and were refusing to answer any questions about what/why they were there.

    After much effort on the part of all concerned it was determined that due to language problems, the original "squack" confirmation from the a/c capt was misunderstood. Which in turn caused a lot of excitment all across the continent.

    The final result was that both a/c resumed their trip and arrived at where ever it was they were directed, safely and other than the command crew, no one knew that they had come very close to becoming bear food in the sub-arctic. Elemdorf had scrambled a flight of 16's to intercept and they had orders to shoot them both down.
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