Democracy, or democracy ATA-style?

October 7, 2020 § 8 Comments

Dear colleagues:

We are in a political environment in the United States at this time, in a few days we will vote for president of the United States, and this is also election time at the American Translators Association. I write this post because I deeply care for our association and the direction it follows for the benefit or detriment of our professions. This post is not an attack on anybody for who they are, but an expression of opinions and a means to disseminate information you may find useful before you vote. I also did some fact-checking and bring you the elements you will need to separate fact from fiction.

Election of candidates.

I am not familiar with some candidates and the ones I know are probably the same ones most of you recognize from the slate. I just want you to be aware of two important points all voting members should consider before voting. Please do your homework and vote for practicing interpreters or translators. Do not continue to stack the board with agency owners, even if they attempt to portray themselves as practicing colleagues. That may be half-truth, and remember their interests are not yours. They are not illegal, but they are not yours. The second point you must remember is that do not vote for the maximum number of candidates allowed. If there is only one board candidate you like, vote for that person and leave the others blank. When you do not know the candidate, or you have doubts, it is better to abstain. An abstention is powerful, because it increases the chances of your candidates to win as you do not gift a vote to someone you are not sure about. In my case I already voted, and I only voted for one candidate. The individual I chose has disagreements with me, and this candidate is not an interpreter, but he has my trust because I know this person is smart, honest, and not an agency.

I encourage you to think long and hard before you decide on your candidates, and do not feel bad if you just vote for one individual.

The decoupling question.

How can not decoupling be considered illegal? I understand the issue should be raised if a certification were needed to practice translation and ATA were the only certifying entity officially recognized, but neither is true. Certification may give you a competitive advantage and help you dissipate doubts about your professional level, but it is not a legal requirement to work as a translator. Although well-known as a serious credential, ATA has no official recognition as a certifying agency or office. ATA membership is voluntary and certification is one benefit of membership. Nobody can be forced to join ATA, just like no one can be forced to take the certification exam.

Regarding the ABA remarks, whether intentionally, or due to a lack of basic knowledge, it is puzzling that an allegedly practicing court interpreter in Pennsylvania can make the following statement: “Now, as a world class nonprofit association, certification legal experts have repeatedly advised us that it is unseemly and illegal to force individuals to become members just to take and maintain their certification…the ABA and the AMA have no such requirements for professional lawyers and doctors.” 

There is not such a thing as an “ABA Bar Exam.” I am sorry to hear an ATA Board member making such remarks. Perhaps the reason for this regrettable statement can be understood, nut justified, by visiting the Administrative Office of the State of Pennsylvania’s official website: The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania’s Court Interpreters classifies Spanish interpreters in three categories. From higher to lower skill level: Master, Certified, and Conditional. Are considered conditional interpreters those who score 50 percent on a simultaneous, consecutive, and bi-directional sight translation exam (a 49 percent score fails the test) testing the bare-bones minimum skills to interpret in court. Because conditional interpreters, like the person who made these comments, are separated from failing candidates by one percentage point, they may interpret during hearings of lesser complexity where freedom or substantial assets are not at risk. They cannot interpret trials unless they are before a lower court and involve small claims, traffic violations, etc.

Attorneys must pass a STATE BAR EXAM to be able to practice law. They must join that State Bar and remain members throughout their professional life in that State. It is the State Bar that grants and runs the continuing legal education program needed to keep a license valid, and the State Bar is the only body to monitor the rules of ethics are observed, and when they are not, only the Bar can sanction attorneys after notice and hearing. The only thing “illegal” is to practice law without a license (State Bar membership) carrying up to 364 days in jail in most states, and very harsh Civil sanctions, which could include compensatory and punitive damages depending on the harm done. Conditional-level court interpreters often work with pro-se individuals, and, have limited exposure to situations where the law license issue is mentioned. As for the American Medical Association’s part of the statement, since 1933, the certification function has been administered by a separate organization known as the American Board of Medical Specialties. No relation to the AMA, administratively or functionally. Interesting that a candidate who lost an election twice and got to the board by appointment both times gives such an eloquent opinion on something he lacks.

I encourage you to put your interests as a member above the associations economic priorities and reject this amendment. Vote No.

An election with multiple candidates.

I am very troubled by the arguments of those who oppose the amendment because they base their opinion on false assumptions, and because they represent the Institutional viewpoint. That two of the former presidents endorsing the opinion were beneficiaries of unopposed “elections” merits mentioning as it goes to the credibility of the opinion. 

An election is a decision between (at least) two options, anything else can be called a ratification, imposition, proclamation, appointment, or coronation, but not an election. 

Nations, corporations, and associations are governed by those who represent the will of the majority of its citizens, shareholders, or members. From its inception by the Greeks, many centuries ago, this has been called democracy. 

History has seen many totalitarian regimes in countries, corporations, and institutions disguised as “democracies.” Often, arguments to justify this aberration include a consensus by an elite in a position of power indicating they, as self-appointed protectors of the masses, are making the tough decisions; that it would be too dangerous to let citizens, shareholders or members decide because they are not “prepared” for it. 

The argument that an outsider who may be elected president-elect, treasurer, or director would jeopardize the institutional continuity of the people in power sends chills through my body. Elections are to change what a majority dislikes, not to guarantee everything will stay the same. Supporting ATA’s official viewpoint reminds me of those attempting to destroy our nation’s democracy at this time.

To say people not screened and blessed by the ones in power will not perform as needed, will not devote the necessary time to fulfill their responsibilities, or will quit their position shortly after the election, is plain insulting. People run for elected positions because they want to do the job. They want to do the job according to the interests of those who elected them, and sometimes these may not be the interests of those already in power. 

The bylaws are to an association what a constitution is to a nation. Their amendment is a serious matter and it should reflect the decision of that association’s membership based on real information, not a manipulated alternative reality. The only place where unopposed “elections” are welcome and considered a good thing is totalitarian structures populated by those too afraid to face the will of a majority without feeding them first manipulated information. That was tried before, caused many hardships and pain, and after many years it fell because it never represented the view of the majority. I don’t want another Soviet Union in my profession.

I encourage you to put democracy and membership above the current leadership’s appetite for control and support this amendment. Vote Yes.

Please vote. Most members never vote and that took us to where we are. Think of your career, the profession, and how a professional association should serve the interests of its human members, not corporations, or personal ambition.

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§ 8 Responses to Democracy, or democracy ATA-style?

  • Thank you for taking the time to use your platform to share your opinions with colleagues. You have certainly given people food for thought as they make the decision they think is best. Yesterday, I took the time to remind SPD listserv participants to vote and I shared some concerns I have regarding decoupling. My post was immediately CLOSED. Multiple ATA members eager to discuss decoupling were told that was not to be discussed in the Spanish Division forum. I imagine, but don’t know because the conversations were thwarted, that members were interested in discussing how such a change could impact their careers working in Spanish. Such a missed opportunity for an open discussion among members working with Spanish about an issue quite pertinent to their professional lives and membership organization. Very disappointing! So, I thank you for taking the time to empower those who do not believe the association has presented a case for why decoupling would benefit the average member.

  • Jessica Hartstein says:

    I would think that whatever the regular rules are, they are still in force, but I don’t know what those are. You know, I actually have lost a lot of sleep over decoupling. It’s been difficult for me to stick my neck out and express my concerns about decoupling in the current environment. I will say that most of the leaders I’ve interacted with about this have been professional with me despite not seeing eye to eye with me. I have to admit, though, much of the sleep loss has been because the public discussion has been so…uncomfortable and limited. I feel like the impact of decoupling to the average member has been missing from corporate communications and public discussions, which is strange as a membership association. I think a change of this magnitude really requires a much stronger case than has been presented, mixed with a much smaller risk to members.

  • rsette7 says:

    Thank you, Tony, for your cogent analysis of the current situation in ATA. As a candidate for the Board, and as a vocal advocate of the membership having the opportunity to vote on whether to give up certification as a member right, I have been aghast at the misinformation and outright lies offered by ATA leadership. They amount to scare tactics, and the ATA leadership is on a “decoupling at all cost” mission. For many years, “at all cost” translated as “don’t ask the membership. This is a ‘policy’ decision.” How do you get 13 people in a Board room who don’t seem to know that a right is a right? Read that article of the Bylaws, and you will see it is ridiculous to think that the “right to take certification examinations” could be given away to non-members.

    Additionally, it’s worth noting that 3 of the 4 current officers of ATA were elected without opposition, after being nominated by a nominating committee chaired by a past president. The Secretary, Treasurer and Pres.-elect are voting members of the Board, in addition to setting the direction for the Association as members of the Executive Committee. If they have a vote on our behalf, we deserve a meaningful vote when they seek office. Period.

    Additionally, members have asked for greater ease of access to Board meetings, and we have been rebuffed. The Board issues cryptic meeting agendas to the membership, stating “The Board will discuss the decoupling issue”, and several months later the membership learns (not from the meeting minutes, mind you) that “discussion” meant that they retained a certification consultant for an undisclosed cost, paid for with member funds, without any record of that selection appearing in Board minutes.

    This level of secrecy is off the rails.

    What is at issue here quite simply is this: Does ATA primarily serve individual members in our profession, or is it really an “industry association”. If the latter, then there is an inherent conflict of interest in having individual, practitioner members of the profession funding that role.

    Robert Sette, CT
    Candidate for ATA Director

    • Robert, thank you for your comments and for running for the Board. It would be great to have an ATA with leaders as honest and transparent as you, who put members first. Your election to the Board would be a step on the right direction. I wish you success!

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