Whole Foods Workers Suspended After Speaking Spanish

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By Russell ContrerasWhole Foods market store in Albuquerque, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Two employees at a Whole Foods Market store in Albuquerque say that they were suspended last month after complaining about being told they couldn't speak Spanish to each other while on the job -- a claim that the company says was a misunderstanding.

Bryan Baldizan told The Associated Press that he and a female employee were suspended for a day after they wrote a letter following a meeting with a manager who told them Spanish was not allowed during work hours.

"I couldn't believe it," said Baldizan, who works in the store's food preparation department. "All we did was say we didn't believe the policy was fair. We only talk Spanish to each other about personal stuff, not work." He said Whole Foods officials told them about company policy and issued the suspensions.

But Whole Foods Market Inc. spokeswoman Libba Letton said the store launched an investigation based on the claims and determined the employees misunderstood and were not told that they couldn't speak Spanish.

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Letton said the two were suspended with pay for being "rude and disrespectful" in an office. "Their suspension was due to their behavior alone," she said in a statement.

However, Ben Friedland, Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain Region Executive Marketing Coordinator, said the Austin, Texas-based company believes in "having a uniform form of communication" for a safe working environment. "Therefore, our policy states that all English speaking Team Members must speak English to customers and other Team Members while on the clock," Friedland said in a statement. "Team Members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work."

Friedland said the policy doesn't prevent employees from speaking Spanish to customers who don't speak English, nor does it prevent them from speaking Spanish if all "parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication." Letton told the AP that in addition to safety reasons, the policy is in place so employees who don't speak Spanish don't feel uncomfortable.

The ordeal comes after New Mexico, the most Hispanic state in the nation, saw two recent cases of Spanish being barred from high school athletic competitions.

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Last month, New Mexico Military Institute's Jose Gonzales was penalized a point for speaking Spanish after an on-court official warned him twice to speak only English during a state championship tennis singles match. Sally Marquez, executive director of the New Mexico Activities Association, the governing board for high school sports in the state, said the official was warned not to repeat that action, even though the official was within his right since the association was following the United States Tennis Association rule book during the finals.

In April, an umpire resigned after being accused of trying to ban New Mexico high school baseball players from speaking Spanish during a game. The resignation came after Gadsden Independent School District officials filed a complaint with the association accusing the umpire of telling a first baseman not to speak Spanish during a game in Alamogordo.

Ralph Arellanes, state director of New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens, said the Whole Foods Market policy violates New Mexico's state constitution, which protects Spanish and American Indian languages. Latino groups will meet soon about a possible boycott of businesses that have similar policies, he said.

Whole Foods In Hot Water Over Suspensions


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wnstnrace1

Yoiu wanna speak Spanish, move to Spain. In the USA, English is our language. You knew the rules and broke them. Too bad, so sad.

February 07 2014 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nightingale11

I speak 3 languages and 2 more haltingly. ENGLISH should be the official language of the United Sttes. Most of our families had to learn it when they arrived, whenever they got here. What's the problem? Speak English at work or school activities. On your own time speak whatever you wish to. And teach your kids to be bi-lingual. Useful ability, that! Or go back to wherever so you are free to speak whatever. No apologies for this statment.

February 07 2014 at 3:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jamesoffkilter

i hate when im in a store and the employees are speaking either Spanish or Polish'
Ex. MCDONALDS OR WALMART ITS VERY DISRESPECTFUL DURING WORK HOURS .
yOU WANNA LIVE AND WORK HERE LEARN THE LANGUAGE FOR GODS SAKE .

February 07 2014 at 2:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
norbacuna

Well I'm fluent in both languages, however this is the USA and you can't obligate for the country to speak your language, to me the official language is English, the problem that we have in this country today had been caused by the liberal politicians using these tactics as leverage to get votes from the Spanish communities.
I only have one recommendation for this two employees, hable ingles!
When I took my driving test 42 years ago and it was only in English, today we have more than 25 languages to take the same test, now I have a question, are the road signs going to be shown in multiple languages as well?
Everybody has a problem all want to be identify, Chinese American, African American, Cuban America and etc., you know what, if you don’t consider yourself a US Citizen, them o back where you came from, maybe is better there, but don’t impose to a country to adapt to you, speak your lenguage when you're out of your job and at home.
I was once a foreigner and I have been a proud US citizen for more than 40 years.
By the way United States of America is a country, but America is a whole continent not a country!
LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!

February 07 2014 at 1:02 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
geocur3971

That's two in a time span all too brief, Whole Foods. Unless there is a better explanation for these firings and suspensions, I'd say its time for a BOYCOTT. NOW!

February 07 2014 at 12:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
ShabbySherry

Hi Honey, Don't let em do this to ya. Tell them you will help with organizing a UNION. And then DO IT !!!!

February 07 2014 at 12:18 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
buckn22

Can we say let the racism begin. We don't have an official language in the country. Imagine what will happen if everyone is forced to speak English. Sorry your fired for speaking ???

February 07 2014 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark

If you don't want to speak English go work at El Ranchito not Whole Foods, idiots!

August 16 2013 at 3:54 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
awed1

i really dislike people who are bigots. people that are multilingual rock, i wish i was. ever been to an airport ? a lot of foreign airports have directions written in most of the major airlines. they are more tolerant of the global community than americans, and that is the key word, tolerance. tolerance of other languages, tolerance of other cultures, tolerance of other traditions. americans need to be more tolerant. america is not the only country in the world.

the only problem i have is when people are speaking their country's language when providing a service, like when i have my nails done. to me, that is rude, like whispering.

June 11 2013 at 12:03 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to awed1's comment
Mark

Really? You just contradicted yourself and made yourself a hypocrite. It's only not right to hate on Spanish when you're not involved?

August 16 2013 at 3:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Mark

You just contradicted yourself. Also you are a hypocrite! In 2 paragraphs. Congratulations!

August 16 2013 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kingdom777terri

Lawsuits coming! Thanks to our government and their pandering. Good for you Whole foods!

June 10 2013 at 11:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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