U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today sharply criticized the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for filing suit against a Framingham, Massachusetts Salvation Army Thrift Store that requires that only English be spoken in the workplace.
“Do you conduct your staff meetings in a language other than English?” Alexander asked EEOC Chair Naomi Earp at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science. “I don’t know how you could conduct a staff meeting at the Salvation Army thrift store if the people speak 15 different languages.”
Earp testified that “an employer who establishes an English-only rule has a responsibility to show a business necessity for that rule.” Alexander responded: “I find that to be an astonishing waste of your time, and contrary to everything I know about the importance of achieving unity in our country for us to – in effect, by your lawsuit – require every single employer in America to worry” that they will face litigation if they require English to be spoken in the workplace.
“I’ve spent the last 40 years supporting civil rights acts, but the reason was so that we could have a unified country,” Alexander added. “There are only a few things that unite us as Americans: One is our common language, English, another is a few principles that we learn in the Declaration of Independence. Last year the Senate declared English our national language. Since 1906 people have had to learn English to become citizens of the Untied States. It’s not a punitive requirement, it’s a requirement to help us be able to communicate with one another. A 911 telephone call wouldn’t be useful to a Chinese person if the person who answered the phone spoke Spanish. In Nashville we have 28 languages spoken by the students at the school my daughter went to, but they all learned in English.”
Noting the EEOC’s 56,000 case backlog, Alexander concluded, “I would respectfully ask that you put your resources on something other than harassing the Salvation Army Thrift Store or anyone else for requiring their employees to speak our common language.”
Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education, is a longtime advocate of policies to encourage immigrant assimilation and to help prospective citizens learn English. During the immigration debate last year, the Senate passed by a vote of 91 to1 his “Strengthening American Citizenship Act” that would have, among other provisions:
· Provided education grants up to $500 for English courses to legal immigrants who declare intent to become an American citizen.
· Allowed citizenship applicants who learn to speak English fluently to meet the residency requirement after four years of living in the United States rather than five.