A decade old policy is now a problem?
Leon’s Frozen Custard in Milwaukee, WI, has come under fire for its English-only policy, inspiring one group to demand a federal investigation.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) flipped out over the private business policy. The group’s state director Dr. Arturo Martinez released this statement:
“In the last 24 hours, LULAC of Wisconsin has received numerous requests to investigate the issue of workplace policy as it pertains to language at Leon’s Frozen Custard located at 3131 S. 27th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While many of us consider this as a community institution, it was surprising when we learned of their language policy, which is in clear violation of federal labor law. Upon reviewing the statements made by management in a video interview detailing Leon’s policy, we are requesting an investigation of this policy by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The law is clear on this issue and offers few exceptions. In the meantime, we encourage management to review their current employment policies with counsel to bring them into compliance. We are confident that in doing so, it will lead to a stronger business and a stronger community.”
On May 17, customer Joey Sanchez heard one employee tell a Spanish-speaking customer she could only speak English to him. Sanchez also ordered in Spanish and she said the same thing to him.
Latino rights group Voces de la Frontera has planned a protest at Leon’s this Saturday. Member Primitivo Torres said the policy “is clearly a violation of law, federal labor law.” Rep. JoCosta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee) claimed the policy brought tears to her eyes and demanded an apology. But Rep Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) took a less dramatic approach by asking for a compromise:
“I’ve always seen Latino people working here and Latinos spending their money here and I always thought things were in really good shape and people come from all over Milwaukee and we’re proud of our immigrant backgrounds,” Zepnick said.
Owner Ron Schneider defended the English-only policy and said it does not hurt his business, which has held the policy for a decade. He also told the media the business has never turned away a customer.
But the social media pressure “softened” Schneider’s policy:
“I’ve firmed up what has been maybe a little loose,” Leon’s Frozen Custard owner Ron Schneider told WISN. “If anybody comes up here, employees are instructed to do whatever they can do to help them. If you talk in Spanish, fine. But if you come up and speak German we’re going to have a problem because we don’t have anybody here that speaks German.”
Leon’s Frozen Custard is located on Milwaukee’s southside, an area with a large Hispanic population.
Schneider says he’ll allow employees to speak Spanish with customers, but he’ll ask them to speak English amongst each other.
“In order to promote workplace security and let’s say workplace efficiency, they can be requested to speak in one language,” Schneider told. “I’m going to prefer they do that because … for God’s sake if something here goes wrong big time and everybody doesn’t know what’s being said, this is a dangerous situation.”
Philadelphia’s Geno’s Steaks encountered its own controversy in 2006 when they posted a sign telling customers to order in English:
“They don’t know how lucky they are. All we’re asking them to do is learn the English language,” said Geno’s owner Joseph Vento, 66. “We’re out to help these people, but they’ve got to help themselves, too.”
Vento, whose grandparents struggled to learn English after immigrating from Sicily in the 1920s, said he posted the sign about six months ago amid concerns over immigration reform and the increasing number of customers who could not order in English when they wanted Philly’s gooey, greasy specialty — fried steak, sliced or chopped, in a long roll, with cheese and fried onions.
Vento passed away in 2011, but he asked that the English Only sign remain up. His son Geno took over and promised to keep up the sign even though he had different views than his father.
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