Reported by Joy Wiltermuth, New York Daily NewsFreshDirect’s grocery business budded out of convenience. Now, the company known for delivering gourmet goodies to the doorstep is cultivating its employees.Regulars at Helen Sashin’s weekly English-as-a-second language class are not just students. They are Fresh Direct workers-new immigrants-learning on the cool shipping floors of its Long Island City warehouse.Workers in hairnets huddle in a cozy room-the only warm space at the facility-at the 6:30 a.m. class, and practice words such as lettuce, butter, zucchini and lima beans.Sashin, 61, from Sunnyside, briefly interrupted. I want to tell you something about English,” she said. “When there are two ‘T’s in a row, it takes on the sound of a “D.’”For some 80 Fresh Direct employees enrolled in the free 15-week class, learning English means not only improving job productivity, but also getting paid for hitting the books.Fred Cohort, Manager of Employee Relations, said workers earn regular wages over the two-hour sessions. Hourly pay ranges from $8.25 to about $12. The 4:30 a.m. class attracts those coming off the night shift.William Palacios, 32, has been in the produce department for more than two years. “I’m a lead [worker for the shift], so I have to speak,” he said. After his 6:30 a.m. class, he starts the day shift.Jose Correa, 53, is also a lead worker and drives equipment. “I learn English, and thank God,” he said.FreshDirect’s custom-tailored ESL program was designed by LaGuardia Community College’s Center for Corporate Education. Tim Rucinski, Director of the center, said the classes have helped Fresh Direct retain employees.Many of FreshDirect’s 900 workers took language placement exams in May. Of those, nearly 10% were placed in ESL courses.Maria Quizhpi, 35, is one of 15 workers placed in Sashin’s course. “I would like to have more hours of class,” she said.But no matter how eager the students are, meeting only once a week and not using English at home makes it difficult for students to retrain materials, Sashin said. “I like to learn,” said Thierno Wann, of Corona.
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