Senator Alexander Pushes English Only Workplace Bill

By: Kim Bedford
By: Kim Bedford

Knoxville (WVLT) - US Senator Lamar Alexander is pushing legislation that would require English-only speaking in the workplace, if the business chooses.

Volunteer TV's Kim Bedford spoke with Knoxville businesses and Senator Alexander for a closer look.

Senator Lamar Alexander intends to introduce legislation into the Senate that may require employees to speak English, without the business being sued for discrimination.

"A business, if it chooses to, may want to make sure for safety reasons, whatever reason, that the employees speak in a common language," Sen. Alexander says.

"Employers ought to be able to make their own decisions about that," Garrett Wagley with the Knoxville Chamber says Alexander's proposal only makes sense. "There are a lot of folks who've moved to the United States over the past 200 years who didn't speak English, but integrated into society and learned to speak English because they knew it would make themselves able to make more money."

People like Bo Hadjerioua, who was born in France, but now works at TVA. "If I say that, okay, I was born in France and I need to speak French here, I cannot do my work speaking French, so I have to learn English and use that language only."

But not everyone agrees with the English-only proposal.

"It kind of strikes me as being opposite of what America is kind of all about. I mean, I've always thought of this country as a melting pot," Jeff Gencay is a volunteer worker at the Village Marketplace here on Market Square, where most everything they sell is from third world countries. "It would probably be detrimental to us. We kind of welcome, just by the nature of our store, the diversity of other cultures."

Gencay says some of their employees speak other languages, and Alexander's proposal is discriminating.

"English only in the workplace is not discrimination. It just makes common sense to speak English in the workplace," Alexander says.

Alexander also plans to re-introduce a $500 voucher into legislation for any adult who needs help learning English.

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