May 8, 2017 § 32 Comments
Recently many interpreters have been asked to provide their services for free. The current refugee situation in Europe, immigration policy of the United States, and other crisis around the world, including the awful repression of the people of Venezuela, have created a wave of foreign language speakers who seek help in countries where their native language is not spoken.
I have heard from colleagues asked to go to an airport to interpret for individuals denied admission into the United States. Others have been asked to provide their services during town hall meetings without pay. Several have received requests to work for free during asylum hearings or medical examinations at refugee camps or religious organizations-run facilities.
When asked to “interpret at no charge for these folks who have gone through so much”, many interpreters feel pressured to provide the service, even when this may represent a financial burden to them. Arguments such as “It will not take long, and it really is nothing to you since you speak the language… please help” are often used to corner professional interpreters into a place where it becomes very difficult to decline.
There are plenty of times when the only one asked to work for free is the interpreter. Many non-for-profit organizations have paid staff, and it is these social workers, physicians, attorneys and others who will assist the foreign language speaker. Everyone is making a living while helping these people in need, but the interpreter! Something is wrong with this picture.
Many of the people who work for these organizations do not see interpreters as professionals. They do not consider what we do as a professional service. They just see it as the acquired knowledge of a language that interpreters speak anyway, and they perceive it as something that should be shared for free. They believe that what doctors, lawyers and social workers do is a professional service and deserves pay. To them, we perform a non-professional, effortless task that should be volunteered. Even if the interpreters questions this idea, and asks to be paid, the answers go from: “We are non-for-profit and we have no money” to “The entire budget will go to pay for doctors and lawyers, and you know they are expensive. There is no money left for you”. And then they go for the kill by closing the statement with: “but you understand; these are your people. They need your help”.
This is insulting. First, they see us, treat us, and address us as second-class paraprofessional service providers. Then, they claim there is no money when we all know that non-for-profits do not pay taxes because of the service they provide, but they have sources of income. Finally, they think we are not smart enough to see how they are trying to use us by playing the guilt card.
I systematically decline these requests because I consider them insulting and demeaning to the profession. Interpreters are professionals just like the other parties involved, their job is as important and essential as the rest of the professions participating in the program, and we must get paid just like the rest of the professionals.
There are instances when attorneys and other professionals provide the service without payment. The difference is that in some countries, lawyers and other professionals must perform some hours free of charge; sometimes several hours worked pro bono can be credited as part of the continuing education hours to keep a professional license current. Even court and healthcare interpreters receive this benefit sometimes. People see it as working for free, but it is far from it. The first scenario is a legal obligation to keep a professional license valid. The second one is a creative way to lure professionals into providing professional services at no charge for needed continuing education credits and an enhancement of their reputation in their community that will see them as willing participants helping in the middle of a crisis.
According to the American Bar Association, eleven states have implemented rules that permit attorneys who take pro bono cases to earn credit toward mandatory continuing legal education requirements (The states are: Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington State, and Wyoming).
I have no problem with interpreting for free if the interpreter must comply with a compulsory social service, or can benefit by receiving continuing education credit. When the legislation (or the lack of it) is so interpreters get nothing from their service while the others benefit, then interpreters are treated as sub-professionals and I believe they should say no to all those asking them to work under these disadvantageous conditions.
If these non-for-profit organizations want interpreting services for free, they should lobby their legislative authorities or administrative officials to provide continuing education credits to all interpreters who provide some hours of work for free.
Another possible solution would be to allow interpreters to treat these free professional services as a donation to the non-for-profit organizations, making them tax deductible. This would create an incentive and level the field with all other professionals already getting a paycheck, or continuing education credits. American legislation does not allow interpreters in the United States to deduct the value of their time or services (IRS Publication 526 for tax year 2016). An amendment to this legislation would go a long way, and would benefit both, non-for-profit organizations and professional interpreters.
Some of you may disagree with me on this subject. I am asking you to detach your professional business decisions, which we should make with our brain, from your emotional decisions that come from your heart. We all have causes we care about and we willfully, with no pressure, help in any way we can, including interpreting for free. This is something else, and you should do it when nobody else is making a profit or even an income to get by. It is called fairness. On the other hand, we should protect our profession, and the livelihood of our families by refusing all “volunteer” work where some of the others are getting paid or receiving a benefit we are not. Especially when they insult our intelligence by resorting to the “emotional appeal”.
I sometimes donate my services under the above circumstances, as long as I may advertise who I am and my services. This way I donate my work, but I am investing in my business by enhancing my client base and professional network. I now ask you to comment on this issue that seems very popular at this time. The only thing I ask from you is to please abstain from the comments and arguments for working for free that appeal to emotions instead of professional businesses.
April 30, 2013 § 3 Comments
I recently finished reading “Thoughts on Translation,” Corinne McKay’s new book. It is a compilation of some of her most popular, interesting and well-written posts in her industry-acclaimed blog of the same name (http://thoughtsontranslation.com/) I personally know Corinne as a friend and colleague from a period of my life when I lived in Colorado, her home base. I know first-hand of her commitment to the profession as a well- respected colleague, top-notch translator, and active professional who serves as a board member of the American Translators Association (ATA) and was, during my days in the Denver metro area, a very popular president of the Colorado Translators Association (CTA)
The linguistics family has many members, and I have always considered interpreters and translators as siblings in that family tree, with interpreters being the older sibling because long ago there was interpretation before humans began writing. I know that many interpreters, like me, spend part of their professional career translating, and many translators devote part of their time to interpreting, so that in itself should be a good reason to venture yourselves into the pages of “Thoughts on Translation,” even if you are primarily an interpreter. Interpreters, translators and our other “linguistic cousins” such as transcribers, proof-readers, editors, voice-over talent, dubbing actors, and localization experts have much in common; we work with languages. Now, if you add the ingredient of “freelancer” to that mix, you will come to realize that many times what is good for the translator is good for the interpreter and vice-versa.
“Thoughts on Translation” is directed to translators, but many articles in the book deal with issues common to interpreters and translators. In chapters 1 and 2 Corinne is really talking to all freelance linguists as she explains what it takes to become a successful freelancer in our sibling professions. Tips on how to market your services, setting realistic goals, and membership in professional associations are universal in our careers. On latter chapters she touches upon essential topics like the freelance mindset, how to deal with difficult clients, and how to use online resources; all relevant to the professional interpreter. Finally, she writes about money! Those of you who regularly read my posts know how important it is, in my opinion, to deal with these monetary issues without feeling guilty or uncomfortable because you want to make a good living. The book is very well-written, entertaining, funny, and of course, extremely useful. It constitutes a great tool for those who are just starting as professional interpreters, and it is a good resource for all of my veteran well-established friends and colleagues who, from time to time, need a text to quote in a particular situation.
I encourage you to read “Thoughts on Translation” available from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/) Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/) and In Trans Book Service with our dear Freek Lankhof (http://www.intransbooks.com/) I also invite you to share your thoughts regarding how books by translators can be a useful resource for interpreters.
December 7, 2012 § 4 Comments
Una noche leyendo mi correo electrónico me enteré de ciertas cosas, en mi opinión preocupantes, que estaban sucediendo en ese momento en el estado de Colorado. Resulta que los intérpretes que trabajan en ese distrito judicial federal prestando servicios a los abogados del panel, conocidos como “CJA” por las siglas que tiene ese programa en el idioma inglés, tuvieron muchas dificultades para que les pagaran sus honorarios. Aparentemente, hay algunas abogadas de este panel de Colorado, y al menos una juez en ese distrito, que no consideran que sea legítimo el pago de gastos y honorarios a los intérpretes que se desplazan a los centros de detención, por más lejos que estos se encuentren, a interpretar para los abogados CJA. Una abogada se negó a autorizar el pago por las millas y el tiempo que le llevó a una colega intérprete trasladarse a un centro de detención. La abogada argumentó que solo debería pagarse por el “tiempo de interpretación” y nada más. Este asunto tan absurdo llegó a una audiencia ante una juez federal del distrito de Colorado y ¿Qué creen ustedes? ¡La juez estuvo de acuerdo con la abogada del panel! Es más, esa juez trató de lograr que este criterio obtuso se convirtiera en regla general en todo el distrito judicial. Afortunadamente la crisis terminó con una decisión en que prevaleció la opinión de la mayoría de los jueces y en este momento los intérpretes reciben compensación por el tiempo de viaje. Lo lamentable es que para alcanzar este “final feliz” pasaron meses y requirió de un gran esfuerzo por parte de nuestros colegas que afortunadamente terminaron por recibir el apoyo del presidente del juzgado y de la mayoría de los jueces vitalicios. No me quedó claro si la juez que inició toda la controversia finalmente entró en razón o simplemente perdió a la hora de contar los votos.
Ahora, debo explicar algo que yo sé por haber vivido un tiempo en Colorado. Por muchísimos años los intérpretes judiciales de ese estado han trabajado bajo un sistema que les resuelve todo. No tienen que buscar trabajo ya que tanto el estado como el gobierno federal programan a sus intérpretes y les asignan días para interpretar. El resultado de esta costumbre ha sido que muchos de los colegas en Colorado no saben buscar clientes o negociar con ellos ya que están acostumbrados a depender del juzgado en este sistema de clientela medieval. De tal suerte que el juzgado, actuando como dueño de tienda de raya, determina el pago por los servicios de interpretación y los días en que alguien trabaja. Los intérpretes están tan acostumbrados al sistema que siempre están de acuerdo y siguen aceptando las condiciones que se les impongan en estos contratos de adhesión. Obviamente el resultado es que Colorado tiene algunos de los intérpretes más mal pagados en todo el país.
Ese sistema tan viciado dejó de aplicarse en el distrito judicial federal a fines del año pasado y desde entonces, y hasta que los jueces votaron a favor del pago por el tiempo de viaje, se había trabajado con el panel CJA bajo una política de negociación caso por caso. El resultado fue que en un lugar donde la gente no estaba acostumbrada a negociar sus honorarios, donde hay colegas (y me duele llamarlos colegas) que están prestando sus servicios por una miseria de pago, y hay otros que están tratando de cobrar como se debe, estos últimos enfrentan a un monstruo de dos cabezas: el cliente que quiere pagar poco y el intérprete miedoso que gustoso acepta las migajas..
No digo que debamos determinar aquí lo que hay que pagar a los intérpretes de ninguna parte, eso es cosa de ellos. Mi preocupación fundamental y mi única motivación para escribir este artículo tiene que ver con la idea de no pagar por el tiempo de preparación, de viaje, los gastos incidentales de la prestación del servicio profesional, y el tiempo que el intérprete deja de ganar dinero en otro trabajo debido a que está sentado en la cárcel con el abogado esperando que traigan al preso, o está jugándose la vida en una tormenta de nieve tratando de cumplir con su cita en un centro de detención, o está investigando terminología, etcétera.
Que quede bien claro que los intérpretes, al igual que todo aquel que presta servicios profesionales, incluyendo los abogados, venden su tiempo. No pueden estar en dos lugares al mismo tiempo, y si se les contrata para un trabajo de dos horas, pero eso significa que debido a la distancia, o a la hora del día en que se va a prestar el servicio, no pueden trabajar en algo más ese día, o ese medio día, o sea, van a dejar de ganar dinero para poder satisfacer la necesidad de ese cliente que los necesita por dos horas, al igual que los abogados, esos intérpretes deben cobrar por su tiempo dedicado a un caso, deben ser remunerados por su tiempo desde el momento en que dejan su casa u oficina y hasta que regresen a la misma, deben ser remunerados por el tiempo que dediquen a la investigación y preparación de un trabajo, y deben ser reembolsados por los gastos que conlleva la prestación de sus servicios, millas viajadas, cuotas de puentes y carreteras, boletos de avión, hoteles, viáticos, etcétera. La manera en que el intérprete decida cobrar esos gastos y honorarios es cosa suya: un honorario por hora contado desde que sale de la oficina hasta que regresa, cobrando únicamente por las horas de interpretación pero a un honorario más elevado que incluya los gastos y el viaje, a una tarifa por el día o medio día de trabajo…en fin, eso es cosa de cada uno.
Si yo estuviera en una situación como la que sufrieron los intérpretes de Colorado, trataría de convencer a mis colegas para que no cedan ante la presión y cobren por aquello a lo que tienen derecho, además, yo simplemente me negaría a aceptar trabajo con esas abogadas cuenta-chiles del panel (que por cierto generalmente nunca se convierten en buenos clientes ya que rara vez tienen la pericia y conocimientos para tener clientes particulares que son los que pagan bien) y antes de cada trabajo prepararía una carta de condiciones que pediría que el abogado firmara, y si no la firma, simplemente no aceptaría el trabajo. Asimismo, jamás volvería a aceptar trabajo ante jueces como la que se menciona en este artículo, y que como dato curioso es hispana y “habla” español. Hay que recordar que somos contratistas y como tales tenemos el derecho a aceptar o rechazar todo el trabajo que nos ofrezcan. Yo estoy convencido que cuando un abogado se encuentra sin opciones porque nadie quiera trabajar con él o ella, y cuando los jueces poquiteros no puedan celebrar una audiencia por falta de intérprete, sus actitudes cambian, y si no, al haber establecido mi política de no trabajar con ese tipo de clientes, por lo menos yo ya no tendría que preocuparme de lo que pase, ni tendría que perder mi tiempo en litigios y cartas tratando de convencer al olmo para que dé peras. Ya les dije lo que yo haría en esa situación, ahora me encantaría escuchar sus opiniones que tal vez ayuden a nuestros colegas que en estos momentos enfrentan este tipo de circunstancias dondequiera que se encuentren.
October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Next week we will meet in San Diego during the American Translators Association annual conference. We will attend interesting presentations, establish new contacts, greet old friends, buy books, and we will have a lot of fun. However, we will also gather to do something else that is particularly important for all interpreters: we will vote for three directors to the ATA Board. These new officials will represent our interests before the Board for the next three years.
As a professional association, ATA has thirteen officials that make policy and decide issues that affect us all as an organization. We have a President, a President-elect, a Secretary, a Treasurer, and 9 directors. Being a board member is a hard job, it requires a lot of time and effort and the reward is usually the satisfaction of a job well-done. We are very fortunate to have very capable and dedicated people at the top of ATA.
The number of translators and interpreters in the organization’s membership are pretty similar, but only two of these thirteen officials are interpreters. They all do a magnificent job, but it is these interpreters that really voice our perspective in the boardroom. We are two professions united by the word, written and spoken. I am writing this piece because those two spaces where we as interpreters are represented in the boardroom are up for reelection. In other words, if we lose one of those two seats we will end up with nothing as it used to be in the past. In the pursuit of a more balanced organization we should strive to bring our representation up. To do that we cannot afford to lose these two seats. We just can’t.
Cristina D. Helmerichs is a veteran of our profession. She has a professional and administrative resume better than most. She has been an honest and measured voice for all ATA interpreters during the last three years. She was instrumental in the change of the organization’s tag that for the first time included us, the interpreters, as part of the association’s identity. She presently chairs the Interpretation Policy Advisory Committee, and a couple of years ago she played a significant role on an effort to understand and include many more of our colleagues who were frankly on the verge of leaving ATA and other professional organizations because they felt excluded and ignored. Cristina was Chair of the NAJIT Board of Directors from 1996 to 2004. During her tenure NAJIT saw unprecedented growth in membership; she is also a founder of the Texas Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (TAJIT) and an active member of the Austin Area Translators and Interpreters Association.
Cristina complements these impressive administrative credentials with her professional trajectory as an interpreter. She has worked in the federal court system nationwide, she has been a pillar to the court interpreter scene in the state of Texas for many years, and she has been a conference interpreter all over the country. Cristina is a regular interpreter trainer, a workshop instructor, and a rater of the federal court interpreter examination. I know all these things because I have been a member of these organizations when Cristina has been in charge; I have worked with her all over the country interpreting, teaching, and rating federal exams. I have traveled half way across the world with Cristina. I have pet her dogs at her home, and I have been her classmate when we studied diplomatic conference interpretation in Argentina together. Cristina has been a great friend and she is a spectacular human being. Anybody in Austin will agree with this statement. I invite you to vote for her next week because we need her at the table.
I also encourage you to reelect Odile J. Legeay, the other interpreter on the board. Odile is another great professional and very capable board member. During the last three years she has been instrumental in the development of tools that have come to aide all freelancers, such as the standard agreement she developed. Odile is also a great human being. I know all these things because just as in Cristina’s case, I have seen it first-hand. I have worked with her, attended conferences and activities with her, and I have been to her home in Houston where I have seen how well-liked and loved by her peers she is. Together with Cristina, Odile is a voice that we as interpreters must keep at the top of ATA’s decision-making structure. We need their representation. In fact we cannot afford to do without either one of them.
It is also relevant to mention that Cristina and Odile are two of only three Spanish linguists on the board. This is also important when we think that ATA is the most important professional association in the United States, and the U.S. is the number two country with the most Spanish speakers in the world just behind Mexico. Voting to reelect Cristina and Odile will continue to allow all ATA interpreters to have a voice on a Board of Directors where an overwhelming majority of the members are translators, and it will also help ATA to be more representative of its community (The United States of America) and its membership (Spanish interpreters and translators) by keeping two of the Spanish linguists as part of the Board. The other Spanish linguist, a translator, is not up for reelection this time.
Finally, because this election day we can vote for three directors, I would like to invite you to also vote for Corinne McKay. She is not an interpreter, she is a French<>English translator (and a very good one) who has been instrumental to our joint profession. I know Corinne as a person and she is a great human being, she is responsible and committed. I had a chance to observe her up-close when she was President of the Colorado Translators Association (CTA). At the time I was living in Colorado and I was Chair of the Colorado Association of Professional Interpreters (CAPI). I have seen Corinne present at professional conferences, I saw the key role she played during the ATA annual conference in Denver two years ago, and I know that although not an interpreter, she has tried to bridge that gap in Colorado organizing events to bring the professions closer. I know this because a few years back she invited me to do a presentation on conference interpretation before CTA.
Dear friends and colleagues. I appreciate all of our colleagues that are running, I am sure they are all honorable and capable professionals and human beings, but this time I invite you to keep our voice at the table by reelecting Cristina Helmerichs and Odile Legeay, and I invite you to cast your third vote for a great translator who has proven to be capable as an administrator and will no doubt be a friend to the interpreter community. Please cast these three votes.
July 17, 2012 § 6 Comments
Not long ago I had dinner with some colleagues that work in the federal court system. As it always happens with interpreters, we ended up talking shop. Of course, as you all know, this is pretty standard in our profession; however, I was shocked by some of the comments I heard. I learned that despite the fact that the state has over 20 court certified interpreters, the federal courts in Colorado are now hiring non-certified interpreters for all services with the exception of court hearings; and that is not all, I also heard that the CJA attorneys are only approving vouchers for the time “actually worked” by the interpreter. Forget about the full day and half a day rates. I also found out that, ignoring the fact that Chicago has around 15 certified court interpreters, the state of Indiana is hiring non-certified interpreters for hearings, and they are even pairing them with certified interpreters. We all know that each district is its own world, and they set their own policy, but somebody told me that this is happening with the blessing of higher authorities. This is worrisome. I support the idea that if you want to like our profession for a long time, and if you want to make a good living, you need to diversify and interpret conferences, legal, medical, and everything else you can think of.
I oppose the position of some independent contractor colleagues who only see themselves as court interpreters and refuse to step outside the box; however, I am very fortunate to live in a place where the court only allows certified court interpreters, but if what I heard is true, I am saddened and frustrated by this information because the certification exam is not easy, because there is a huge quality gap between the interpretation level of certified and non-certified court interpreters, and because the attorneys and judges are going along with the budget guys, giving up the quality of a certified court interpreter in order to save a few bucks. I ask you to tell me if this is what is happening in your area, and if so, what in your opinion can be done to educate the defense bar, the federal bench, and the U.S. Department of Justice so they stop calling all these non-certified interpreters, and let me be very clear that when I say non-certified I am including the consortium certified interpreters because there is no distinction between them and those with another certification or without any certification, they are not certified to work in the federal system. It is that simple.