Plan to Recruit Bilingual Firefighters Is Scrapped : Employment: The Personnel Board cancels the program because of charges it was discriminatory.
Employees’ charges of discrimination have forced Monterey Park’s Personnel Board to rescind a program to recruit bilingual firefighters.
The unusual method of recruiting bilingual employees--approved by the board last month--was promoted by ousted City Manager Mark Lewis and Fire Chief Allen McComb as part of an aggressive affirmative action plan, but came under heavy criticism from the Monterey Park Firefighters’ Assn.
The rescinded program divided applicants into three groups--Chinese-speaking, Spanish-speaking and English-only. Whenever a position was open, the city interviewed applicants from only one of the three groups, depending on the language skill needed.
The goal was to have firefighters fluent in Chinese and Spanish on each shift.
There are seven Latino and no Asian firefighters in the 37-member department, which has not queried its employees on their language skills.
In Wednesday’s 2-1 vote to kill the program, board members said they would consider alternatives such as offering basic Chinese and Spanish lessons to all firefighters, and sponsoring special “career days” to target minority firefighter candidates.
The program, though, may not be dead. A majority on the City Council has expressed support for a similar program to recruit bilingual dispatchers for the emergency 911 number. Last week, the council gave itself the power to override the Personnel Board.
Critics said the program was unfair because Chinese- and Spanish-speaking applicants could be hired even if their test scores were lower than the top English-only applicants.
They also said it discriminated against bilingual applicants who speak other languages, such as Vietnamese, and did not address the promotion of bilingual firefighters.
“There were a lot of problems (the hiring program) would create in the department,” said board member Robert Greene, who changed his vote, killing the program.
McComb said the rescinded program had been successful in the few weeks since its adoption. Seventy-seven Chinese-speaking applicants have signed up to take firefighter examinations this fall.
In the past, he said, the most that the department had heard from at one time was four.
“People who never gave the Fire Department a second thought are now aware we are very interested in increasing numbers, of having membership from the Asian community and from the Hispanic community,” McComb said. “In the past they were predominantly English-speaking Caucasians.”
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