A dispute between two workers and their employers at a Whole Foods Market in New Mexico over speaking Spanish on the job has led to a boycott from an activist group and prompted the corporate office of the grocery store chain to launch an offensive on Twitter.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that Bryan Baldizan and an unnamed female employee were suspended from an Albuquerque store for a day after they wrote a letter complaining about a supervisor's order to not speak Spanish among themselves in the workplace.
"All we did was say [was] we didn't believe the policy was fair. We only talk Spanish to each other about personal stuff, not work," Baldizan told the AP.
The brouhaha has triggered an online petition by Progressive Now New Mexico, an advocacy group, on the liberal website MoveOn.org where people are pledging to boycott the grocery store until it changes its language policy. As of Friday morning, more than 1,200 people have signed the petition.
The company’s policy states that the “default language” is English. It allows employees to speak to Spanish-speaking customers in Spanish, but discourages workers to speak to each other in Spanish while they are on the clock.
Whole Foods disputes that the suspension was for speaking Spanish and has told media outlets – through an aggressive Twitter campaign and a press release they sent out in English and Spanish – that it was for “rude and disrespectful behavior.” It also insists that its language policy is not discriminatory.
Rather than sitting back and waiting for the issue to die, the company has come out strongly defending themselves.
“There is not an English-only policy, and the [team members] were not suspended for not speaking English,” Whole Foods tweeted Thursday night and Friday.
The company also said, also via Twitter, that 17 other employees that attended the meeting are in agreement with the company’s position that the employees were never told they could not speak Spanish.
When asked by Fox News Latino what behavior issues the employees were suspended for, the company would not specify.
“Unfortunately I can not say since I was not there,” the company tweeted in response. “However, we are an EXTREMELY diverse company.”
In its press release, Whole Foods said its language policy was created for “consistent communication, inclusion and especially for safety and emergency situations.” But it said the policy has been widely misinterpreted because the employees wrongly believed they were told not to speak Spanish at work.
“That was not what was communicated. They were suspended with pay due to rude and disrespectful behavior,” the company said in the release. “Their suspension was due to their behavior alone, not for speaking Spanish.”
But they did say, in tweets to Fox News Latino, that they will be looking into the company’s written guidelines on this front "to ensure clarity.”