Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that requiring bilingual workers to speak English on the job does not violate federal anti-discrimination laws. The issue has strong proponents on each side. A sampling:
Attorney, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Los Angeles
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday July 4, 1994 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Column 5 Op Ed Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Platform: Photos of Kathryn Imahara and Loretta Huang were inadvertently switched in last Monday's platform column, "Should Everybody Speak English on Job?"
I'm afraid that this ruling gives employers the wrong idea that they can institute these types of English-only rules and that they will be legal.
In this instance there was no finding of constitutionality or unconstitutionality. There wasn't any substantive discussion. Because of that, California laws are intact, even though they have not been tested yet.
I would like employees to know that they do have rights in the workplace, that if they do encounter an English-only rule in the workplace they need to fight it because it is discriminatory.
I am all for everyone learning to speak English, but there is a big difference between having the opportunity to learn and having it shoved down your throat. Lots of immigrants are just too busy just trying to survive (to take the few free English classes available).
Member of U.S. English, a group that advocates English as America's common language; San Diego resident
In most workplaces you are trying to develop a team relationship. If you have people speaking a different language, that can only cause a rift. I'm not saying that people immigrating to this country shouldn't be able to keep their language and customs. But suppose people in the workplace were just chatting in a foreign language and it wasn't job-related. The other people don't know that. They don't know whether they are being excluded from information they should have.
Executive vice president and chief operating officer, Parke Industries, Glendora; designs, manufactures and installs energy-efficient lighting for office buildings
The military took me to to Germany. I took a European discharge and I attended a German university. I found it very advantageous to learn to speak German. It was a display of respect. Also, my wife is German.
In our business operation, the most compelling factor is safety. We operate punch presses, brake presses that can be dangerous, forklifts that pickup pretty sizable weights. With the safety factor alone, you have to understand English and be able to speak it very clearly.
We have Mexicans, Colombians, East Indians, people from all over the place. We think it's great for them to speak in their native language when they have their lunch breaks. But business should be conducted in English.
Coordinator of the Alhambra School District's adult education program
I fully support the idea of English-only. Yet at the same time we should not discourage the use of languages that the people feel comfortable using in different social interactions, including work. To go from non-English proficiency to limited English to fluent English, to feeling comfortable with the multicultural mainstream of American life, it takes a long time.
I have encouraged my staff to use English as much as possible. Most of our students are committed to learning English. But often they are bashful, embarrassed and uncomfortable in not knowing what to say because they don't have the vocabulary. By using a language they are familiar with, they can learn English.
Filipino nurse, Rowland Heights; sued hospital because it required her to speak English. Case settled out of court
Just two days ago, this other nurse came in from another department. I don't know her. So she just kind of made a comment in Filipino, in Tagalog. She said something like: "Every time I come to your place it's just so busy."
I said in Tagalog, "Oh, yeah, it's so busy here. Is there anything I can do?" You know, just offering her help. It's to build a rapport. She can express her feelings in Tagalog. It's just automatic.
Maybe I can express what I want to say in English. But it is just so different, better when I can say it in my own language. I'm not just speaking for my own feelings but for Vietnamese and Korean nurses. When I see them speaking their language, I feel better. I don't feel like it's rude.
In front of a patient, I think it's not right to speak a language other than English, if it is a white patient or a black patient. If two Filipinos or two Korean nurses start talking in their language, we should be very careful. It is just courtesy to the patient.