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Whole Foods Market Examines Language Policy Amid Backlash

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File photo of a Whole Foods market. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

File photo of a Whole Foods market. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (CBS Las Vegas/AP) - A local grassroots organization is claiming that employees of one Whole Foods Market location have been prohibited from speaking Spanish while working.

ProgressNow New Mexico asserted on their website that the move dovetails from the company’s public persona.

“Whole Foods Market’s commitment to organic and natural foods has made it a national leader in responsible food choice,” officials wrote on the website. “[B]ut their policies prohibiting employees from speaking their own language or organizing to overturn these anti-diversity policies directly contradict their commitment to ‘team member excellence and happiness.’”

ProgressNow New Mexico has additionally filed a petition with MoveOn.org that asks Whole Foods Market co-CEOs John Mackey and Walter Robb to “reverse [their] anti-diversity ‘English only’ policies.”

As of Friday evening, the petition garnered 3,389 signatures – just 11 shy of their 4,000-signature goal.

The movement is a reaction to the tale of two employees at an Albuquerque store who 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.”

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.

Letton previously told USA Today on Thursday that the cause of the suspension was the employees’ “rude and disrespectful behavior.”

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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