Moving the profession backwards in these critical times.

February 8, 2016 § 11 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

I am not breaking any news when I tell you that our profession is under attack from many more fronts than ever before. We have the tremendous struggle that many of our American immigration court interpreters are battling with SOSi; we have the constant reduction of fees, reimbursements, and work opportunities by the court systems in several European countries and all over the Americas; let us not forget some ambitious entities who for no reason other than their own benefit,  have decided to create a hybrid aberration of a community, court, and healthcare interpreter by patching up together pieces of all three in a way that would make doctor Frankenstein proud; and of course, the so-called “interpreting agencies” who cloud their real mediocre services with smoke and mirrors of technology, while offering the rendition of the cheapest, desperate, bottom-feeder “interpreter” they could find.  We now have a newcomer to the pantheon of the interpreter profession serial killers: the government agencies who want to pay less and burden the professional even more with nonsense bureaucratic paperwork that only finds a reasonable justification to exist when viewed through the distorted mentality of a government official.

These are some of the many calamities that we have to face every day worldwide to protect, preserve, and advance our profession and its perception by the real world, despite of the constant efforts by the above mentioned entities to convince the public that we are not professionals, but mere laborers in an “industry” where we should be treated and paid as skilled labor, never as professionals.

It is in the middle of this environment that some colleagues, giving up the professional interpreter banner, or at best misunderstanding the true nature of what we do for living, and enveloped in the blanket of resignation and submission, have opted for listening to these groups above, not for beneficial purposes such as learning what they really want, where they plan to take us to as service providers, and what their weaknesses and needs are, so we have a way to negotiate with them, but to seek compliance and adhesion to their unilaterally created and developed policies, rules, and requirements, in order to please them and keep them happy, or at least not upset, and this way continue to be retained to provide services in exchange for mediocre to offensive fees and working conditions.

Dear friends and colleagues, some of our peers have misunderstood our role in the language services profession, and out of fear, ignorance, misguided good intentions, and yes, in some cases due to ulterior motives, have decided to accept these unilaterally imposed conditions and provide their services in a way that pleases their “client” turned master by the terms sometimes imposed on the interpreter, without questioning, disagreeing, or rejecting these pre-industrial revolution work conditions.

Professional service providers have organized in professional associations for a long time, so they can defend, preserve, and advance their profession without interference of exterior forces who, by the nature of their legitimate mission and purpose, have opposing and conflicting interests to the ones of the professionals. This is honorable, widely respected, universally expected, and practiced by all professions. Professional associations such as the American Bar Association, the American Medical Association, and many others worldwide, were born for these reasons.  They all have one goal: the best interest of the individual who is a member of the profession.

We as interpreters and translators have some organizations and associations that operate and exist for the same goals than the rest of the professional associations, but every day we see more and more cross-contamination and distortion of the true mission of a professional association when we witness how some of these professional associations are molded after the needs and desires of these other entities that have opposing or conflicting interests with us, just for political and financial reasons.

As a result, instead of having organizations that foster dialogue among interpreters to discuss how to negotiate with, and defend from government and other entities, as all professional associations should, there is now a division in one of the professional associations where, in the opinion of many of us,  government officials, including their staff interpreters and translators (regardless of their personal integrity as they participate as someone else’s agent) now have a forum to indoctrinate interpreters and translators on what they need to do in order to “please the government agency” and fulfill all “requirements” regardless of how bizarre they are; (and they are always one-sided in favor of the government) so the interpreter and translator, like a good soldier, or serf, accepts all conditions, including rock bottom fees, horrendous cancellation and travel policies, and non-sense procedural paperwork requirements, in exchange of the opportunity to be exploited by these agencies.

Some colleagues think that it is great to have these people in the same division with the interpreters and translators, as if we were a job agency, instead of doing what professional associations do: provide a platform for interpreters and translators to debate an issue among themselves BEFORE sitting across the table from the government agency, who is the counterpart of the interpreter and translator, as they have opposing interests. It is the equivalent of having the pharmaceutical companies and health insurance organizations as members of the American Medical Association.

It is true that not all government agencies exploit and humiliate the interpreter; some, regretfully very few and far in between, offer good working conditions and a decent fee at the high end of the spectrum for a government (in the understanding that they will never be able to pay at the same level as the private sector), but even these “good guys” should not be allowed to create their own forums where to influence interpreters and translators from inside the organization; there is a clear conflict of interests, unless the goal is to please the government, language agencies, etc. instead of looking after the interests of the profession and its professionals: the individual interpreters and translators.

Many of us are of the opinion that if you want to have communication and exchanges among interpreter and translator members of an association who primarily provide their services to a government entity, you should be able to do it, but never creating or facilitating a situation where the government agency, through its agents and representatives (even when these individuals are interpreters or translators) has an opportunity to participate, opine, and vote along with individual members. Their role is important, but it comes later in the process, once the members of the association have debated, analyzed and discussed the government agency’s policies, and are ready to negotiate, together or individually.

There is no reason why the government agents need to be present when a member is informing his peers of something that happened to him, or when strategy is being discussed. I invite you to share your comments on this topic, and when participating, please keep in mind that these entities have opposing interests to yours and mine. They answer to a superior within their organizational chart and they are legally and contractually obligated to defend their official position.

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§ 11 Responses to Moving the profession backwards in these critical times.

  • P Diane Schneider says:

    I do see this nightmare issue when filing paperwork to the Department of Labor and Industries in the State of Washington. It seems the paperwork requires more time than that of the work performed.

  • Kathleen M. Morris says:

    Well stated, Tony Rosado.

    In light of these considerations, I have taken it upon myself, as a professional interested in my colleagues’ and my right to discuss professional issues and standards in trust and confidentiality, to take the following step:

    Requested of ATA GovD language division to reject any future application by the SOSi International company, EOIR (U.S. immigration court) interpreter supplier, for association membership in any capacity, individual or corporate. I plan to do the same in the case of the Southern California School of Interpretation, headed by Nestor Wagner, who currently enjoys a lucrative contract with SOSi International to supply “student interpreters” to this company, at pay rates significantly below industry standards. The obvious conflict of interest inherent in such a business arrangement should be clear to all.

    I have also encouraged ATA to reject any possible future offer by SOSi International, to be an ATA Annual Conference sponsor or exhibitor, or to place company recruitment ads in The ATA Chronicle or Annual Conference programs. I urge you to do the same, and to reach out to other professional associations such as NAJIT and state interpreter associations, to take similar measures. In doing so, you will help to restore the dignity and professional respect which any legitimate, ethical supplier of language services, should rightfully demonstrate to all interpreters and translators, here, in the United Kingdom, and nationwide.

  • Inés Venturini says:

    I heard the other day a very wise comment that is my mantra. “If you want more if something encourage it, if you want less of it discourage it” That is what I practice, I’m a tough cookie and anytime I am offered something less than what I expect I will turn down the job. This includes clients that have absurdly intricate billing practices. I tell them my opinion and let them know what is my reason for not wanting to work for them always in the most polite terms. I rather not work ( mind you I’m a single lady without a trust fund) than to accept less than what I deserve. If we all did this things would work much better unfortunately many interpreters just go along with it.

  • Thank you for sharing this information and logic. I had already decided that the membership with the organization to which we have been paying dues for over a decade, was not worth it any longer! That membership was generating very little of our income, not even 1%. I wish other interpreter/translators had the gumption to do what we did: get rid of them out of our lives. Let that “association” keep their new beloved “government” division.
    What if 8,000 of us decided to do the right thing (not renew membership), instead of just a few hundred of us?
    Many professions have been forced to formally amalgamate before, and when they did, they were finally truly respected. WE SHOULD DO THE SAME NOW. Continue to lead the charge. We appreciate you!

  • […] Dear Colleagues: I am not breaking any news when I tell you that our profession is under attack from many more fronts than ever before. We have the tremendous struggle that many of our American immigration court interpreters are battling with SOSi; we have the constant reduction of fees, reimbursements, and work opportunities by the…  […]

  • Mel says:

    I am furious because I studied translation and it was a huge mistake. If cheap, poor quality services (according to professional translators) are unacceptable, then why are those services still hired? It is simple: translation will soon disappear as many other professions already did. Technology will replace human translators. Plus, many many new students enroll in universities unaware of the mistaken decisions they are making. Surrender to reality. Study something else. There is no future for human translators. Anyone speaking English can translate, the translation can be done with minimum knowledge plus Google. So much offered translators and and a few translations demanded. No future at all.

  • Gabriela says:

    Hi Mel, I understand your frustration, but linking it to the fact that human translators will disappear is simply too much. However, there is still one thing I agree with you. There are many cheap, poor quality translators who are selling their services for peanuts. We have to specialize and render top quality services in reply. This is the only way. Kind regards,

  • Milena Calderari-Waldron says:

    Per ATA regulations, ATA Divisions are created at the behest of ATA’s membership.
    ATA Bylaws, Article XIII, Section 2: “a. A petition for the establishment of a Division must be signed by twenty or more voting members of the Association who shall signify their desire to participate in the activities of the Division. b. The signed petition shall be submitted to the Board of Directors, which, at its discretion, shall determine whether the Division may be established.”

    The discussion to be had is whether or not government agencies can become ATA institutional members. As far as I know, staff interpreters and translators who are government employees join as individuals, not as representatives of their government agencies. A staff interpreter or translator should not be equated with a contracting officer, who is the one with the real power when contracting decisions are made. When you read how the US Department of Labor describes what interpreters and translators do and how they do it you will understand why the ATA Government Division was sorely needed. Keep in mind that those descriptions are the basis for wage determination.

    The other discussion to be had is whether or not language companies can become ATA corporate members. The answer is yes, and there are several hundred language companies who are ATA corporate members. Some interpreters and translators wear two hats: they are language company owners and hire other colleagues and they also provide interpreting/translation services for themselves and for others.

    Talk is cheap. If you want things to change roll up your sleeves and VOLUNTEER! Become part of the solution.

    Having said all this, pursuant to anti-trust federal regulations professional associations are very limited in what they can do about rates. For more information please consult https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-antitrust-laws/dealings-competitors/price-fixing. For freelance interpreters to have a collective voice at the negotiating table you need to form a labor union by modifying existing state or federal laws and regulations. It can and has been done.

  • Richard says:

    The fact that many Translators’ Associations are full of Agencies and translators working as Agencies, as their members, just shows what these Associations really are about. The fact that many Translators’ Associations promote actions targeted at protecting their particular interests – work access related – shows how much they really are interested in the higher values of the profession, in particular their submission to the interests of those in power, specially economic power, the man with the money, but also some times with political power, the man with the contacts, but not precisely to enforce rulings which should protect the profession, protect those properly qualified, and protect the value supplied to society.
    The worse situations come about, like in Chile, where there is only one Association, and it has prooved itself untrustworthy. But it also happens when dominating Associations (by size or other) get into commercial relationships and financial dependencies where you can suspect many decisions are influenced by the market, and this is particularly possible if we consider that the majority of translators, freelancers in heart, individualistic by habit, and trapped in a system that has them thinking about “how I’ll get work” with no time to work on controlling his/her future, or fighting the system, do nothing about it. Aren’t we all just sheep being driven to the slaughterhouse? One might speak up, but alone it is little one can do.

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