Thursday, November 01, 2007

Yet another work rant

For the past 24 years the plant where I work has required that all workers on our plant site be able to speak, understand and read English.

Yes, that's legal. We don't have an "English only" rule that everyone must speak English all the time, or anything like that. It's just that all of our safety signs, policies and procedures are written in English. If this refinery-type plant were to have a release of chlorine (the worst-case event at our site) we have to be able to communicate quickly and understandably the location and quantity of the release, the wind direction, and whether workers should evacuate or shelter in place.

Many (actually most) of our employees speak at least a little Spanish (or what we locally call "Tex-Mex," a colloquial idiomatic Spanish "dialect."). Even I understand enough to know when I'm being referred to as an asshole (culero, pronounced "cool arrow") or worse. Yeah, it happens. Some even call me that in English when I do or say something unpopular.

Whatever. Sticks and stones, y'know?

But now, in 2007, we may no longer be able to require English proficiency.

Why not? Because we're starting some construction projects staffed by employees of contract firms, and although those firms used to be able to provide English-proficient employees, they now tell us they no longer can do so. In this area, people skilled in bricklaying, scaffolding, welding, and other trades are predominantly Hispanic. And many do not speak or read English.

There just aren't enough English-proficient people around with the skills we need.

So in order to allow them to work on projects in the plant we must either provide a full-time bilingual "escort," OR we must provide signage, instructions and training in Spanish. It's not a legal issue; it's being forced on us by the marketplace.

Seems to me that ought to be some kind of commentary on our times, or our system, or our education, or something . . . but I'm not sure exactly what.



kenju said...

We are having the same types of problems here in our area, where we have an extremely large population of Latinos, including Mexicans. I should think that signage would be less expensive in the long run than providing an interpreter, but then training and instructions - I don't know.

I don't think we are out of line to insist that people who work for pay in this country be able to speak our language - do you?

Duke_of_Earle said...


Having traveled extensively in Europe and parts of Africa, I can't imagine trying to work in any country on those continents without first acquiring some proficiency in the local language. But here in the US of A, we are too weak-willed (read: politically correct and tolerant) to risk offending anyone who might come here from abroad to visit, and then later to stay and live and work.

I'm sure I'll be hearing from my more liberal and left-leaning friends (and they ARE friends!) about my archaic attitudes.

Anyway, the cost of the signage is not the principal issue. Rather it's the cost of providing pre-work training in two or more languages, and translating all of our emergency and work procedures to satisfy the OSHA requirements.

**Sigh** Another strain on profits (which are paying for all these nice benefits we offer!)


unionman said...

We shouldn't lose sight of what this is really all about: companies looking for cheap labor. They _could_ still find plenty of workers who speak English, but they'd have to pay them $15 or $20 an hour instead of $8 or $10. Someone's always saying "but these are jobs Americans don't want to do." Actually plenty of Americans would still be happy to do them, just not at poverty wages. What's the solution? If you ask me, cheap labor should not exist in America. It's should not be allowed. All workers should have to be paid a decent living wage. Then, pay and benefits being equal, they'll hire English speakers.