Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is this the best we can get?

Lamar Alexander has introduced legislation to "protect English." The frequently repeated reason to offer this protect is that in America most people speak English. But because most people speak English, you will forgive my not seeing the threat that English needs to be protected against. Curious, I searched further.

The law that Mr. Alexander is proposing would bar the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from bringing discrimination suits against companies with English-only rules. Simple enough. The argument seems to be that businesses have the right to tell their employees how to speak.

Now, if such a rule were actually related to job performance (speaking Spanish to an English-speaking customer and blowing a sale, for example), anti-discrimination laws would not prohibit the rule. Bona fide Occupational Qualifications are not discrimination, and a "Protect English" law would be unnecessary.

So, Alexander's law could only apply to employers who want to discriminate based on the language ability of an employee in situations NOT related to job performance.

The Protect English law is a pro-discrimination bill. To prove that, consider these two cases in which the EEOC became involved:

One was against a Houston ship captain who reportedly threatened sailors with a knife after they spoke Spanish in violation of his English-only policy on board. It was settled in December in favor of the plaintiffs for $31,000.

The other is pending against the Salvation Army, which fired two Spanish-speaking clothes sorters who violated the English-only policy at a branch near Boston. (The Tennessean, January 15, 2007)

Why is anyone in the Senate, let alone the person who is supposed to represent Tennesseans, spending time on legislation that protects an employer's right to pull a knife on a Spanish-speaking employee? And, if you can explain the safety issue associated with allowing Salvation Army clothes sorters to speak Spanish at work, I will be impressed. I remind you that if te Salvation Army can make that case to a jury, then they will be absolved. The only reason they need this protection is because the company must not be able to make a convincing job-related argument.

What about the economic health of the state? What about getting the Fort Campbell troops back home? What about securing nuclear materials abroad? What about finding Osama Bin Laden? What about balancing the federal budget? What about caring for the health of citizens and reducing the burden of excessive health care costs on our small businesses? What about promoting renewable energy technologies to ensure the health of our economy as well as the health of our planet?

English is not threatened. Discrimination is. Spending time protecting discrimination that is unrelated to job performance ought to raise some criticism. Here's mine.

2 comments:

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