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Updated: Whole Foods reviewing language policy amid Spanish flap in New Mexico

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Gov. Martinez  happy the company is revisiting the policy, AP reports

Whole Foods Market is reviewing its employee language policy after two of its Spanish-speaking workers in New Mexico said they were suspended after complaining about it, a company spokeswoman said Friday.

The Austin, Texas-based organic grocery chain is re-examining the policy “as we speak, and it will be the topic of ongoing conversations at an all-leadership conference next week,” spokeswoman Libba Letton said in a statement.

Gov. Susana Martinez told The Associated Press she was happy the company is revisiting the policy because New Mexico has a history with Spanish and American Indian languages.

“I’m glad they are willing to re-evaluate that policy because I think every state is different,” Martinez, a Republican and the nation’s only Latina governor, said Friday after speaking to a constituent in Spanish.

The Spanish language “is part of the fabric of what makes New Mexico great,” she said.

The move by Whole Foods Market Inc. comes after two employees at an Albuquerque store said this week they were suspended for a day after recently complaining about a company rule that they say forbids them from speaking Spanish to each other while on the job. Whole Foods officials say the two were suspended for “rude” behavior.

Ben Friedland, the company’s Rocky Mountain region executive marketing coordinator, said the policy states that all English-speaking workers must speak English to customers and other employees while on the clock, unless the customer speaks another language.

“Team members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work,” Friedland said.

He said the policy doesn’t prevent employees from speaking Spanish if all “parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”

News of the suspensions and the policy barring workers from speaking other languages while on the clock sparked outraged on social media and among advocates who started online petitions and called for the company to change the rule.

At a news conference outside the Albuquerque store where the employees were suspended, Ralph Arellanes, state director of the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens, said the company has a week to change the policy before advocates will launch a nationwide boycott of Whole Foods.

“I will give them a period of seven days to implement a new policy, which includes (dropping) this policy, or we will hold them accountable,” Arellanes said Thursday.

Letton said Whole Foods will speak with various civil rights groups during the review of the policy.

“We are also in the process of reaching out to groups like LULAC to discuss the issue and hear their perspective,” she said.


10:23 a.m. June 7, 2013

Suspensions spark questions over company’s policy

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

Bryan Baldizan told The Associated Press 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.

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

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 told not to repeat that action, even though the official was within his rights 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 the 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.


4:00 p.m.
ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Whole Foods Market Inc. is disputing claims from two employees at one of its Albuquerque stores, who say they were suspended last month after complaining about being told they couldn’t speak Spanish to each other while on the job.

Bryan Baldizan says he and a female co-worker were suspended for a day last month after they wrote a letter following a meeting with a manager who told them Spanish wasn’t allowed during work hours.

Baldizan says Whole Foods officials told them about company policy and issued the suspensions.

But Whole Foods Market spokeswoman Libba Letton says the store launched an investigation and found the workers misunderstood the reason for the suspensions.

She says the two were suspended with pay for being “disrespectful” in an office and in front of customers.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.


10:20 a.m.
Two employees at a Whole Foods Market store in Albuquerque say they were suspended last month after complaining about being told they couldn’t speak Spanish to each other while on the job.

Bryan Baldizan told The Associated Press 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.

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.”

Whole Foods Market spokeswoman Libba 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.

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.

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