Interpreters’ association favors some of its members with 2 questionable actions.

July 11, 2019 § 13 Comments

Dear Colleagues:

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know my position regarding California’s AB5 bill that will benefit independent contractor interpreters who are currently prey to abusive practices by many agencies that treat them like employees but provide no labor benefits in that state. If enacted into law, this legislation will protect those who cannot move or seek other sources of work due to personal circumstances such as a sick child, and elderly parent, or unaffordable individual health insurance coverage. (For more information, please see my post of June 12).

I have no problem with those colleagues who, acting as small business owners, not professional interpreters, seek to influence the legislature and kill the bill. They have a legitimate right to do so, just like I exercise my right to support the bill and advocate for its passing.

The situation turns problematic when an association the size of the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) apparently injects itself into a controversy that affects many of its members on both sides of the bill, and throws its support behind one sector of its membership: the agency owners.

It concerns me that a national association decided to participate on a state-level issue in a way that goes beyond its mission to advance the quality of the services provided by its membership, and the professionalization of interpreting, and decides to adopt a position fueled by the commercial interests of some of its small agency members, and those who have listened to the one-sided arguments by these businesspeople, and erroneously think the legislation would harm them. A professional association should concern itself with continuing education, position papers, and support of its membership’s efforts to become a recognized profession, not a commercial entity or a merchant guild. It should not support the other side either.

Independent contractor interpreters have the support of the California Labor Unions and Guild; Agency owners are represented by the Association of Language Companies (ALC), an entity conceived to advance their business interests, not the professional status of individual interpreters or translators. On this issue, agency owners who are NAJIT members should turn to those who share their interests in ALC.

Professional associations should refrain from taking positions and acting on behalf of a membership segment at the expense of another. From the beginning of this controversy, at the time of the Dynamex decision, the American Translators Association (ATA) took itself out of this issue by announcing they would not take sides. That was the right decision, they did not put some members over the rest.

The second thing that troubles me is the way NAJIT got involved in this issue. The membership was not informed of any discussion about this support; as far as I know there was never a Board meeting to deal with this issue. No decision was ever made, and the Board was not consulted. For all these reasons, it is very disconcerting, and extremely troublesome to see NAJIT’s Chair actively participating on these actions through social media, by letting others use the name of NAJIT in a way the public could think the association and its Board were behind these efforts, and (according to social media) by actively attending the legislature’s session, not as a private member, but representing NAJIT (there are social media posts showing her approval of these actions). In fact, to foster trust on the leadership, I believe Board members should remain neutral even as individual members of the association for as long as they are part of the Board. I have no way to know if any other members of the Board participated in such an unfortunate incident, because there is no evidence they did, but if this were the case, they would have acted ultra vires as well, and without discussing these actions as a Board.

Fortunately, the California Senate’s Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee passed the bill on Wednesday, and it now moves to the Appropriations Committee before it can reach the Senate floor. Assemblywoman Lorena González (D-San Diego), author of the bill, added business to business services to the list of exempted occupations. This can be used to escape the law by some of those who claim the legislation will put them out of business.

It is my sincere hope that NAJIT and its Board, thinking of its membership as a whole, publicly take a position of neutrality and clarify they will not support some of its members over others.

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§ 13 Responses to Interpreters’ association favors some of its members with 2 questionable actions.

  • Thank you Tony! I always appreciate your clear-headed arguments and commentary.

  • Thank you, Tony. I have been tracking AB 5. I agree organization like NAJIT should not get involved to the extent of taking sides. They should, however, make sure to keep their members informed, and it appears to me by your article that they have not done that. This is a double miss. I also see that AB 5 excludes healthcare workers, which directly affects medical interpreters. Another thing to consider is that even if you get classified as an employee, it does not mean you will get paid for eight hours a day. The company might only call you for one three-hour session paying you as an employee. This healthcare exemption makes me question why it exists. One possibility is that California Senate Bill 165 is currently in committee. SB 165 aims to create a pilot healthcare interpreting pilot program for Medi-Cal, and we could expect a full-blown healthcare interpreting program in Medi-Cal in the years to come. This will inject a lot of money into the healthcare interpreting industry. If this healthcare worker exemption survives, those interpreters will not have access to achieving employee status, and the state and agencies wouldn’t have to pay for benefits.

    I do not render a position on these issues. As you mention, we have colleagues on both sides. My position is to keep my colleagues informed, which is what NAJIT should have done.

  • Marina C. Ortiz says:

    If these associations don’t get involved how will the voice of independent interpreters who will to remain free-lance and not become employees be represented?
    Many of us working full time, with kids and small businesses on the side don’t have time to get politically involved. That’s why we join these organizations to support our interests and voice our opinions.
    Remember MANY of us went into this profession, specifically because of the free lance nature of it and the freedom that comes with that. Now between the pressure to become court employees and this bill, our dreams jobs will be over. I want freedom not benefits. Otherwise i’d be working for the courts.

    Marina C. Ortiz
    Court Certified Interpreter
    State & US District Courts
    (714) 328-7078

    Thursday, July 11, 2019, 3:32 AM -0700 from :
    Rosado Professional Solutions posted: “Dear Colleagues: If you are a regular reader of this blog you know my position regarding California’s AB5 bill that will benefit independent contractor interpreters who are currently prey to abusive practices by many agencies that treat them like employe”

    • Dear Marina, thank you for your comment. These organizations represent many interpreters and translators, some would be inconvenienced by this legislation, others would benefit. Business associations and labor unions should be involved. Professional associations have a different purpose.

  • rsette7 says:

    Tony, do you ever wonder where the ATA’s voice is in this? After all, they are ostensibly “The Voice of Interpreters and Translators”. Well, the way I hear it, because some interpreters **want** to be classified as employees, they feel they cannot speak out against this. If I were an ATA member residing in California, I would be raising holy hell, because to avoid penalties, California agencies appear to be ceasing to work with bonafide freelance translators residing in California.

    It’s shameful that our “voice” is remaining silent.

    • rsette7 says:

      Actually, I misread some of your comments, due to my haste. I think that the ATA’s inaction necessarily benefits one segment of membership (and harms another).

  • Madeline Rios says:

    No one is trying to kill AB5. They are simply trying to introduce amendments to avoid a situation where a given interpreter and translator would get no employee benefits (due to working for too many agencies and colleagues with whom they network and thus not be eligible for actual benefits from any of them) and at the same time would get no benefits as a business owner (in particular, no right to deduct expenses). AB5 needs to be amended to avoid such a situation.

  • Teresa C. Salazar says:

    Tony, as has been stated there was no intent to “kill” the bill, but rather to try to get an exemption for the freelancers who would suffer the detrimental effects of this piece of legislation

    NAJIT’s participation was in response to request from members. Let us not forget that NAJIT was founded by judiciary interpreters and translators to represent the professions and be the voice of it’s members. While the organization seeks to foster good collaborative relations between practitioners and the corporate sector, we have a responsibility to be the voice of the professionals we represent and try to insure that no action be taken that will negatively impact them or the profession. If the Association doesn’t act, then who will?
    With regard to the Chair’s presence in Sacramento, Amee Benavides attended the meeting with the approval of the entire Board of Directors, after the matter was discussed.
    Perhaps in the future you might contact the Board to find out what the situation actually is before making any statements. Any one of us would be glad to clear up any misunderstanding.

    • Dear Teresa, thank you for your comment. As I stated, I believe NAJIT needed to remain neutral because there are members on both sides of the issue. As you know, I greatly respect your comments and opinions, and I will gladly follow your advice. Can I ask you to share with me (or to publish on NAJIT’s social media) the minutes of the meeting when you all agreed to support these actions, including how each Board member voted? Thank you so much.

  • jarawul oreg says:

    Decades now of this shuck and jive dog and pony show by the ATA and NAJIT as wholly owned subsidiaries of agencies (and run by agency owners) smarmily pretending to “express concern©” for interpreters.

    How is this possible?

    Well, you’ve got the new members who join these outfits utterly clueless and zealously kept that way by the status quo. Then you have the longer time members who either remain in denial of the situation and/or justify paying their membership dues for the business they imagine they’re getting (they also like going to the yearly conventions to feel important). And lastly you have those who just let their memberships lapse in justified and utter disgust.

    TIme to trot out a corollary to the old standby “You Get What You Pay For”: “You Get What You Put Up With”.

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    With all due respects to all concerned:
    Why on earth you think that you “need” to belong to any of these groups?

    Each and every one of you, is a very capable, experienced and knowledgeable interpreter and translator, so why do you kowtow to these useless entities? Remember that THEY DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING FOR YOU TO BECOME WHAT YOU ARE TODAY!

    Do yourself a big favor: Go out, find your own business by starting knocking on attorneys offices’ doors and shortly thereafter, you’ll have more work than you can handle. Your good work and reputation, will garner compliments and referrals and soon thereafter, you’ll be saying what I’m saying today: I no longer look for work; now work looks for me!

  • Sylvia J. Andrade says:

    We should all have the freedom to decide whether we want to be independent or become employees. I have never been an employee and have worked in many different situations.
    I have a business license and renew it every year. I also carry additional insurance coverage, and on occasion, have hotel expenses, computer expenses, etc. I would hope the business to business exception would include anyone with a business license and a desire to stay independent.

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