Thursday, June 2, 2016


Language as risk

LET'S SAY you own a business that employs people from around the globe.

Many of these people work at one location; others work in other countries.

Should all employees worldwide have a common language?

Yes .. . and no.

FAILING TO HAVE A FACILITY-WIDE common language is a risk, a threat to the safety of personnel who cannot comprehend the language of the location.

In the U.S. it also is a risk for management that will be threatened with a Federal lawsuit.

According to an article on the Milwaukee WI WDJT Channel 58 web site, the 'English-Only' Policy At Leon's Frozen Custard Sparks controversy and a threat by the League of United Latin American Citizens that is calling for an investigation by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Ron Schneider, the owner of Leon's Frozen Custard, told CBS 58 he wants all of his employees to be able to communicate with each other -- and because he speaks English, that's the language he wants used at his business.

"It becomes a business issue, a safety issue," Schneider said. "It's much easier to try and conduct business if everyone can understand each other."

The article makes it clear - to most readers at least - that Schneider

    (a) has no objection to hiring employees who have English as a Second Language

    (b) has no objection to employees speaking to each other in a language other than English

    (c) wants employees who speak Spanish to speak to customers whose first, perhaps only, language is Spanish

According to the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) Greater Milwaukee's demographics break down as follows:

Population by race & Hispanic population, 2013 estimates
All races, metro Milwaukee 1,569,659
White 1,207,058
Black/African American 267,767
American Indian & Alaska Native 10,782
Asian 51,472
Native Hawaiian & other Pacific Islander 694
Two or more races 31,886
Hispanic/Latino population (may be of any race) 158,035

Perhaps merchants should be forced to have employees who speak Vietnamese or the language(s) of the 11 federally recognized Indian tribes in Wisconsin today; after all, the Indians were here first.

    Before anyone takes umbrage at the use of the word "Indians" rather than "native Americans," I live up the road from the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The tribe is part of the Seminole Nation, a nation that never signed a peace treaty with the Federal government.

In south Florida, if you speak only English it IS almost impossible to find a job. But I don't recall anyone asking the Feds to step in to force employers to hire English-only speakers.

To turn around the English-Only Policy At Leon's Frozen Custard, employees at many businesses would be required to have a command of Spanish - Cuban, Puerto Rican, or Mexican so far is not specified.

While the U.S. sadly lacks a "by law" national language, English IS the dominant language and the common language across the 48 contiguous States. It is the "glue" that binds the man in Barrow, Alaska to the fellow in the Conch Republic (Key West Florida) - a mere 4,283 air miles (6,893 km) apart.

I cannot fathom young people who come to the U.S. and refuse to learn the dominant language.

    Seniors are another matter. My Mother-In-Law is nearly 90 and lives in a neighborhood where most people speak the language she knows. She never had to learn more than a few basic words to "make do."

English remains the "international language of business" (except perhaps in France where not knowing French can mean you are stuck in De Gaulle airport much like Charlie on the M.T.A.).

I'm delighted that Schneider wants to cater to his customers who either cannot speak English or prefer to speak Spanish, but to force Leon's Frozen Custard to abandon a common language and the safety it brings with it is not just foolish, it is dangerous.

Take this to the extreme.

Assume Leon's Frozen Custard has employees who only speak some variety of Spanish. A fire or other hazard occurs and Schneider yells: "Get out of the building." All of the English-speakers escape and survive; one Spanish-only speaker dies inside. What happens? The deceased worker's survivors sue Schneider for not warning their relative who could not or would not learn English in Milwaukee.

For Schneider, it is a lose-lose situation. If the Feds do file suit, his best option is to close up, putting the Spanish-speaking employees on the street along with the English-speaking workers.

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