“In America, if the owner of a business wants to ask his or her employees to speak English on the job, that ought not to be an issue.” – Lamar Alexander
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, today made the following remarks while introducing his amendment to take funds the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission currently uses to prosecute small businesses who require their employees to speak English on the job and instead dedicate those funds to the Department of Education’s English Literacy and Civics Education Program:
“In America, if the owner of a business wants to ask his or her employees to speak English on the job, that ought not to be an issue …You shouldn’t have to go ask a lawyer to come up with a business reason so you can tell some federal agency why you ask your employees to speak English on the job. There are practical reasons for it. There are safety reasons for it. There are communications reasons for it. There may be customer reasons for it. But it’s a bigger picture than that.”
“We have in this country valued English as our common language for a long time, and let me go back to the reasons why. One of our country’s greatest characteristics is its diversity. Diversity is not our greatest characteristic. Our greatest accomplishment as a country may be that we’ve taken all that diversity and molded it into one common country. It is a source of our great strength.”
“So the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has turned the civil rights law upside-down when it says … you can’t ask your employees to speak America’s common language on the job. I mean, the purpose of civil rights laws is to unify us, to say no distinctions based on race, we want to be one country. Well, if we want to be one country, we need to have a common language. And in this country, that language is English. … And the federal government ought to be consistently on the side of valuing that common language and not on the side of devaluing it.”
Alexander’s amendment would provide $670,000 to the Department of Education’s English Literacy/Civics Education State Grant Program to promote the teaching of English and civics to immigrants. The money would come from allocations to the EEOC and would be removed to stop the EEOC from suing organizations like the Salvation Army for requiring English in the workplace.
There were 125 “English Only” charges filed with the EEOC in FY06, up nearly fourfold since FY96. In one well-known case, in March 2007 the EEOC sued the Salvation Army for allegedly discriminating against two of the Army’s employees in a Boston-area thrift store by requiring them to speak English.
In June 2007, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an Alexander amendment to the FY08 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill to bar the EEOC from filing lawsuits against employers who require their employees to speak English while on the job. That Alexander amendment was added to the CJS appropriations bill which passed the full Senate by a vote of 75 to 19 on October 16. On November 8, the House of Representatives – with the support of 36 Democrats – voted to instruct its members of the House-Senate conference committee negotiating the final CJS appropriations bill to defer to the Senate position on this issue. However, the speaker of the House canceled the CJS appropriations conference over this issue, and the EEOC measure was left out of the final FY08 omnibus appropriations legislation that funded the EEOC.