Exploring ways to do business: An Interpreter Run Cooperative

We are always writing about colleagues asking us about fees, and we are horrified when we learn of new colleagues being lowballed. This is an everyday issue. Many blog writers and other guests write about this subject, and we tend to despair of ever having interpreter fees accurately reflect our skills. Maybe it is time to think of new business structures?

Today, a colleague offered an assignment in a professional chat, and a few of our friends mentioned that the proposed fee was low. Then the conversation turned from low- to high-range fees and the differences between compensation from law firms, courts, and agencies. One of my colleagues brought up an idea that I have been hearing for the last two years. I believe I first heard about this concept the first time I met Reme Bashi, or perhaps the second.  I have since talked to other colleagues about the idea of coming together to open a cooperative run for and by interpreters.

What would it take to create a cooperative? I have been reading on the subject from different websites, including the IRS rules for this type of legal entity, and it does not sound more complicated than what we already do, most of us already being self-employed. Among us are agency owners, former agency owners, and former agency employees. So, what is stopping us from making this dream or goal a reality?

Cooperatives are often created in the context of agricultural production, but they can function for many types of products and services.  The University of Nebraska’s Cooperative Development Center defines a cooperative as follows:

A cooperative is an association of persons (organization) that is owned and controlled by the people to meet their common economic, social, and/or cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled business (enterprise).  The people of the cooperative are those who use its products, supplies, and/or services. Profits are also often returned back to the members of the cooperative; however, cooperatives are often more focused on services for members than for investments.

Cooperatives can be created for a number of different reasons or to fulfill a number of different needs: jointly process goods, split costs, split control over work, purchasing power (bulk buys), shared employees, shared wages, etc.

Aside from our language skills, most of us have run businesses of one kind or another. I for example worked in accounting, administration, and human resources for fifteen years before becoming an interpreter. Many of my colleagues have been or are still working as flight attendants, communicators, photographers, graphic designers, professors, teachers, real-estate agents, writers, and more. Therefore, we all have a combined variety of skills that could be very useful for this kind of project, from logos to tag lines and administration, and more.

One of the reasons I have not attempted this before is that someone needs to take it on and get people organized. There needs to be a leader or a group of leaders. Most of my colleagues (closest friends) are in my age group, and for the most part, we are all set as far as our income and commitments are concerned. Some of us, myself included, are planning to retire within the next five years. We need someone from a younger generation ready to step up to the plate, take this idea, and run with it. I am sure you can get a lot of support from colleagues already doing this. I believe we have one in my neck of the woods, actually!

If you are interested in this idea, it is time to get enough volunteers to research it and see it if it is a viable option for you, to get organized and explore all business possibilities.

Hilda Zavala-Shymanik is a state certified/approved Spanish court interpreter and translator with more than seventeen years of experience in legal, medical, corporate, and non-profit settings in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Wisconsin and is certified/approved in those four states. Hilda is a former Vice Chair, Board Member, Treasurer, Conference Committee Chair, member of the Training and Education and Advocacy Committees, and current member of the blog team and Chair of the Elections Committee of the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators, as well as former president of the New York Circle of Translators.

She is an active and voting member of NAJIT, ATA, MATI and other professional groups. Hilda has two certificates in Legal Interpreting in Spanish and English, the latest one from NYU. Hilda is the current staff interpreter of the 23rd Illinois Judicial Circuit as well as a Cook County (Illinois) Spanish Interpreter employee. Hilda is a former Staff Interpreter at Essex County Superior Court in New Jersey, where she worked for six years. Born in Chicago, Hilda lived for twenty years in Mexico and loves traveling. She continuously looks for opportunities to promote and advance the interpreting profession. Contact: hshymanik@yahoo.com

Featured photo and text-body photo by rawpixel.com. (Photos free of copyrights under CC0.)

8 thoughts on “Exploring ways to do business: An Interpreter Run Cooperative”

  1. Remedios Bashi says:

    Great article Hilda! I think all interpreters would benefit from learning more about different ways to do business.

  2. Elena says:

    This is wonderful. But a caveat: interpreters should be certified to ensure quality. Where I live, there is a cooperative, but the “interpreters’ are non-certified, and the quality ranges from bad to mediocre to okay. The rest of us have to deal with complaints, and then if we are hired, we are told how good we are, because the cooperative has provided such poor levels of interpretation. Quality counts, and certifications count.

  3. Anumita Roy says:

    I have thought about something along the same line of thought. The payment disparity hits me quite often and causes a lot of unnecessary ill feelings. Such a cooperative might be the answer to the issue.

  4. Georganne Weller says:

    Hey, thanks for the idea and your valuable input! Sounds like a lot of colleagues would be willing to get onboard. Please keep us posted!

  5. Sandra Aidar-McDermott says:

    OMG! Yesterday I wrote in my WhatsApp group of SC Court certified colleagues that we need to join forces and devise a joint marketing strategy. I don’t know if we’ll go as far as a cooperative but something is up in the air. Thank you for sharing this idea, I will look into it.

  6. Brad Owen says:

    Healthcare interpreters in Oregon are attempting to unionize, motivated by the same problems in our industry as court interpreters face, although our problems around pay are generally thought to be more difficult than with court interpreting. If you think court interpreters aren’t paid enough, you don’t want to come within ten thousand square miles of the healthcare interpreting industry!

    1. In my view, unionizing is not the answer. You cannot unionize freelancers. A union is not interested in getting you more money but how to get you to give them your money. Medically certified interpreters are, sadly, underpaid, and paying unions dues will further affect them. Diversification and transferable skills should be explored, like many of us court interpreters do.

  7. Now, I don’t know if the following two groups define or think of themselves as cooperatives, but their collective model appeals to me.

    Independent Interpreters

    Agrupación de Intérpretes de Barcelona

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *