A Congressional Misadventure: Forcing Spanish on the Worksite

Posted: Dec 12, 2007 5:25 PM
A Congressional Misadventure: Forcing Spanish on the Worksite

Earlier this year Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) proposed an addition to the Fiscal Year 2008 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill. The proposal would restrict the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from pursuing civil legal action against employers who require their employees to speak English. The Senate adopted the measure and the House of Representatives followed suit in mid-November, adopting the measure by a vote of 218-186. Thirty-six of those supporting the measure in the House were Democrats.

The vote infuriated the 21 members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). After failing to shut the House down by a vote of 204-184, CHC members suggested they would attempt to block the appropriations bill. Because of the CHC objections, House Democrats delayed a conference committee on the CJS appropriations bill, which will now become part of the omnibus spending bill Democrats intend to pass, according to the ROLL CALL newspaper.

Now it appears that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has capitulated to the CHC and agreed strike the language from the final version of the bill. CHC Chairman Joe Baca (D-CA) said last week that “[Pelosi] has agreed and our Caucus is united. Everybody agrees it was a mistake.” According to ROLL CALL, he added that he expects the language either to be struck in its entirety from the omnibus spending bill or to be replaced by language drafted by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Contrary to what Representative Baca said, not everyone agrees that the language was a mistake. EEOC sued The Salvation Army in April because one of the charity's thrift stores in Boston requires its employees to speak English on the job. The Salvation Army is large enough that, if needed, it can defend itself against frivolous lawsuits. Other businesses are not so fortunate. As Senator Alexander stated on the Senate Floor last week, “…this means that thousands of small businesses across America -- the shoe shop, the drug store, the filling station, any company -- would have to be prepared to make their case to the federal agency and perhaps hire a lawyer to show there is some special reason to justify requiring their employees to speak our country's common language on the job."

But the size of the company is irrelevant. As Senator Alexander said, English is the common language of America. For one to improve and succeed one must have a comfortable command of the language. Speaking a common language on the job also fosters a sense of cohesiveness and camaraderie and promotes efficiency. If one group of people can talk amongst themselves without others knowing what they are saying, skepticism and mistrust are likely to result. It is also frustrating for the consumer to patronize a business where one has difficulty being understood because one is speaking English – and to the detriment of a business, many people will not patronize it.

What Baca and other members of CHC want is to maintain the status quo, pandering to the laziness of the worst segment of their constituency. Many Hispanics and other non-English speakers have come to America, learned the language and done remarkably well through hard work and perseverance. Speaker Pelosi should retain the House-approved language in the bill to protect businesses and encourage employers to hire immigrants who want to learn English and become Americans to learn and improve. Otherwise, the American dream may be forever out of reach.