21 Feb Are You Reading the Headlines?
Have you seen what’s going on in recent news? Freelance court interpreters in Massachusetts and Colorado are mobilized and are saying “no more” to stagnant remuneration and inert policies in their respective court systems. And their efforts are getting the following headlines:
Boston Globe: With no pay raise in 17 years, state’s court interpreters threaten a walkout
Denver Post: Cohort of Colorado court interpreters walk out as pay dispute drags on
What an exciting time to see court interpreters taking action. There may very well be similar headlines on the horizon from these and other states. While it’s thrilling to see our profession brought to the forefront, it’s a shame that these matters can’t be “kept in the family” and dealt with through good-faith efforts. Too often, however, court systems expect freelance/contract/per diem interpreters not to rock the boat, accept the status quo, and do as they are told.
Nope! Interpreters across this country are fed up. In many states, it’s been too long since remuneration, scheduling systems, and team-interpreting standards, to name a few, were updated. If state governments and court systems refuse to sit down at the table, interpreters are going to act.
And you, dear colleague, you can act now. Support the colleagues in Massachusetts and Colorado. Read our Los Angeles colleagues’ open letter to Governor Newsom and sign the petition in a show of solidarity. Take a look at other states, like those that the NAJIT Board has supported through their advocacy-focused missives, and take a moment to write an e-mail. Consider the courts where you work and take your grievances to your courts’ administrative offices and policy-making bodies.
Here’s a template for a letter of support. Find the relevant parties and send them a note using the following or your own text.
|Dear [STATE COURT ADMINISTRATOR] and [COURT INTERPRETER PROGRAM COORDINATOR],
I would like to express my solidarity with my fellow court interpreter colleagues taking a long-overdue stand for fair treatment by the [STATE] Court System.
Currently, [per diem/contract/registry] interpreters are underpaid and overlooked. Their good-faith efforts so far to engage directly with the [STATE COURT SYSTEM/AOC/LANGUAGE ACCESS PROGRAM] in a constructive, conciliatory, and professional dialogue to address the challenges faced by [STATE] court interpreters has yielded little response.
Both stagnant pay as well as unfair policies raise troubling questions of quality control and pose adverse impacts for the most vulnerable stakeholders in [STATE] courts. Any policy that degrades and devalues meaningful language access in the courts is a step backward; it harms all language professionals by degrading professional standards, undercuts access to justice, and threatens livelihoods.
[STATE] court interpreters have legitimate grievances. They should be heard and addressed urgently.
If you have specific advocacy targets for a particular state or court system to whom such messages should be directed, share them in the comments. Also, share in the comments the local interpreter and translation associations’ contact e-mail addresses so they can be CC’d in those messages.
Change is coming. It’s time to act!
Garrett M. Bradford is a freelance conference and court interpreter based in Maryland. Alongside his excellent colleagues, he advocates for cost-of-living-adjusted compensation and practical policies that promote fair and professional working conditions for Maryland court interpreters.
Main photo: Wake Up, America! poster, from the Library of Congress – no known restrictions on publication. Body image (petition letter) taken from “Contestación del CES sobre Presuntas Funciones Inspectoras de la Futura Gerencia de Atención Primaria del Área Única” by by José M.ª Morán Llanes at the AISSMa.org blog, under the CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 ES license.
3 thoughts on “Are You Reading the Headlines?”
Yes. Also, federally certified interpreters nationwide recently successfully advocated for a long-overdue increase. And a group of us here in King County, Washington, have achieved success on most of the things we were advocating for in the county courts. Don’t be afraid to stand up! We have more power than I think we realize sometimes.
There are two bills to raise court interpreter pay currently in the Hawaii State Legislature. You can follow them on the Hawaii Legislature’s web site. (See: https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/) SB 813 is moving. HB 219 is not. The Hawaii Judiciary has testified in favor. You can read the testimony. To make sense of the Judiciary’s tier system, go to https://www.courts.state.hi.us/. Click on Services and follow the logic trail. Click on Registry. For more details, please see my testimony. There are only fifteen certified court interpreters in Hawaii, and not all of them are available to the courts. The other 400+ are people who are on the Registry but have not passed an oral certification test. The Hawaii Judiciary tier system is probably based on Alabama’s.
Thank you so much! Court interpreters in New Mexico have been fighting for the same – reasonable pay (only one small increase since 2007), fair contract conditions, adherence to standards, etc., for many years, most recently (since 2019) in the form of PCIP-NM – the Professional Court Interpreters Project of New Mexico.
Our (volunteer) leadership group of 5 have spent countless hours documenting and explaining the issues and making our case for needed changes, politely and sometimes forcefully, and have been met with basically a pat on the head from the NM Administrative Office of the Courts (NMAOC). When we petitioned the NM Supreme Court, they told us to direct our communications to – wait for it – NMAOC. We have spoken with judges and attorneys who are supportive, but they don’t know how to take action. We have spoken with sympathetic legislators, but they seem to want us to mount a massive statewide campaign, when there are only a few dozen court interpreters left, many of whom have been so intimidated by the current system that they are afraid to even allow us to name them as members of our group.
Six or seven years ago there were about 90 certified court interpreters regularly working as contract interpreters in the NM courts – now that number is below 40.
Those of us in the leadership group are very encouraged by what is going on in other states and at the federal level, and we are willing to continue taking action, but we are also exhausted (not only by this fight but also by the continuing struggles of dealing with the aftermath of the COVID shutdowns with our kids and family members). We feel like we’ve been shouting into the wind for years. Some of us have already left the courts but continue to fight because we believe in the importance of equitable access in the judicial system. But we also feel like, with only a handful of us, others who are affected by diminishing access to interpreting in the courts need to care about these issues and be willing to speak out as well.
If NAJIT or interpreters from other states who have seen some successes could help us figure out a realistic path forward, we would be so grateful!