COMMACK — CSEA represents many members who do not speak English as a primary language and need English translators to help them with union business and increase union participation, which includes reading written materials and communicating with members and management.

While many CSEA members primarily speak languages other than English, one of the largest demographics among those with limited English proficiency are those who speak Spanish as a primary language. 

According to the U.S. Census 2020 American Community Survey, more than 2.5 million New Yorkers reported having limited English proficiency. Of this total, about 1.1 million New Yorkers with limited English proficiency speak Spanish as a first language, followed by Chinese and Russian. 

CSEA Long Island Region Nassau Area Retirees Local Member Ana O’Gorman meets with CSEA Eisenhower Park Golf Course members who are still in need of a translator to deliver union information. From left to right, Ana O’Gorman, Santos Salmeron and David Salmeron.

CSEA members such as CSEA Nassau Area Retirees Local member and former Nassau County Local activist Ana O’Gorman, who is bilingual, have stepped in as a translator and representative for 30 Spanish-speaking members at Nassau County Eisenhower Park Golf Course. Management is often unable to effectively communicate with workers due to a language barrier.

Workers say that they are happy to be a part of CSEA, but they are in need of additional assistance because of the language barrier.

The lack of communication has led to physical harm to members employed at the golf course. 

“One member was trying to clip some branches from a tree and unfortunately one of this branches hit him in the head,” said O’Gorman. “The incident happened a long time ago and the member continues to suffer from migraines and insomnia.”

According to O’Gorman, the member was not wearing a helmet because management did not make him aware that it is a health and safety issue.

That member remains off the job on Workers’ Compensation. Another member sustained a back injury due to same factors. 

Latino Eisenhower Park workers said management hired outside contractors to do some of the outside park work after the tree trimming accident, leading to a subcontracting issue that the Nassau County Local will address. 

Both injuries could have been preventable had the employer been better able to communicate the information to workers.

“We really need someone to help us with our health and safety concerns,” said Nassau County Eisenhower Park worker David Salmeron, as translated by O’Gorman. “Everyone who works outside and operates heavy equipment is Latino; they need somebody.”

Although O’Gorman occasionally still translates for the parks workers, her retirement has left a hole that has yet to be filled.

CSEA Oyster Bay Executive Vice President Guadalupe Johnson, standing at far right, translates union business at a SUNY Farmingdale Local member meeting specifically held for Spanish speaking members.

SUNY Farmingdale

Language barriers between management and employees who have limited English proficiency are also causing some issues at SUNY Farmingdale. 

Custodial staff on the overnight shift who have limited English proficiency had been exposed to potentially hazardous materials because management was unable to help with reading warning labels or communicating about the materials.

The workers have also expressed concern over a lack of communication from management over their contractual rights, a situation that workers attribute to the language barrier.

That is where CSEA Oyster Bay Local Executive Vice President Guadalupe Johnson has stepped in. Johnson, who is also bilingual, has begun working with Spanish-speaking CSEA members around Long Island who are often afraid to speak in member meetings or stand up to their supervisors for fear of being ridiculed.

“A lot of times, immigrants are mocked for their accents so they become self-conscious about how they sound,” said Johnson. “I’ve noticed that some native English speakers don’t always have the patience to try to understand someone with an accent.” 

Inclusion is union building

To empower Spanish-speaking members, the CSEA SUNY Farmingdale Local’s acting leadership holds separate member meetings for workers, where Johnson translates and passes out CSEA flyers that are written in Spanish. The local is in administratorship.

Many of the custodians’ problems have now been addressed because someone is finally there who can help them.

“I finally feel protected from managers who speak down to workers and are more rigid with Latinos than English speakers,” said CSEA SUNY Farmingdale Local Member Ana Fugon, as translated by Johnson. “I am very satisfied with the help that we have received.”

At its core, inclusion is the essence of union building. The more that members are seen and heard, the more stable CSEA’s foundation of unionism will be.

— Wendi Bowie 


About Author

Wendi Bowie is an award-winning journalist who has focused the majority of her career on covering Long Island news. Her efforts have earned her the Press Club of Long Island Media Award for Public Affairs and the Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting Folio Award. Wendi was drawn to her current position as Communications Specialist for CSEA’s Long Island Region because it speaks to her strong desire to champion the rights of the common man and woman.

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