Nearly half of the 65 workers at Sta-Rite Industries in Oxnard speak no English.
But that in itself is no problem for the company: The workers don't need English to perform their jobs assembling the water filters that Sta-Rite manufactures for use in swimming pools and Jacuzzis.
Sta-Rite has had difficulty, however, finding bilingual supervisors who can talk to the Spanish-speaking workers in the plant and the English-speaking bosses in the company's offices.
So this year, the company is trying a new approach to this old problem: It's teaching the workers English.
Sta-Rite has contracted with the Oxnard Union High School District for a teacher to hold two classes at the plant each week, making the company one of the few businesses in Ventura County to pay for its employees to learn English.
About 30 of Sta-Rite's 65 employees showed interest in the course, although Sta-Rite is limiting each class to 10 employees.
To encourage the employees to stay after work for the instruction, Sta-Rite pays participants their regular wages, which average about $5 per hour, for one hour of each two-hour class.
Sta-Rite Operations Manager Richard Nelson said the company is acting not only out of self-interest, but also out of a sense of social responsibility.
"Understanding or comprehending or being able to use the English language will make our employees better employees," he said. "They'll be more valuable to the corporation. But they'll also be better citizens."
The company is taking a risk, he added, by teaching its workers a skill that may lead them to find better, higher-paying jobs.
"We may lose these people," he said. "Our turnover rate may go up substantially. But I think it's something that more corporations of our size should do. The more residents we have that speak the language, the better off we'll be."