27 Feb Massachusetts Per Diem Court Interpreters Win Pay Increase… But Now Face A New Challenge
Per diem court interpreters succeed in securing a pay adjustment after 17 years!
The most recent pay rate for per diem court interpreters was set in 2006. Since then, requests for an increase by individuals and the Massachusetts Association of Court Interpreters (MACI – www.maci-inc.org) to the Trial Court’s Office of Language Access (OLA) went unanswered or were outright rejected. On February 8th, in addition to a guarantee of a yearly cost-of-living increase and a tiny raise in travel-time compensation, the Trial Court finally agreed to a 50% pay-rate increase retroactive to January 1, 2023, to correct for the changes in the cost of living as follows:
|Existing rate||Rate offered by the Courts|
|Certified Full Day||$300||$450|
|Certified Half Day||$200||$300|
|Screened Full Day||$200||$300|
|Screened Half Day||$125||$200|
This did not happen in a vacuum nor out of the Trial Court’s generosity. One colleague, Genevieve Howe, started what turned out to involve a majority of per diem interpreters. She addressed OLA administrators as an individual who was unhappy with the situation in November 2022 by sending letters to OLA administrators outlining how long it had been since there had been any change in per diem compensation and providing data for her arguments from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Security Administration, and other sources. Genevieve also outlined concrete steps she would take individually if no changes were made to compensation and travel time while mentioning the possibility of a walkout, absent an adjustment by the New Year. Though OLA administrators had remote meetings with her, they took no action on Genevieve’s requests, nor on those from other colleagues who had also sent e-mails regarding these issues to the same OLA administrators.
Jumping forward to January, Genevieve let OLA know that their silence meant that other measures were going to be necessary. She communicated with a list of over 100 per diem court interpreters and asked them to consider a February walkout. The response was enthusiastic, and the week of February 6-10, 2023, was agreed upon. Quickly, a group of about nine per diems stepped forward to devise multiple ways to call attention to long-stagnant pay rates and other issues. In the meantime, per diem court interpreters had mobilized to contact local and statewide media outlets as well as their state representatives and senators. A petition to the Governor was started by per diem court interpreter Mercy Cevallos. Sandra Hall, a colleague who works in western Massachusetts, distributed yellow ribbons among supportive court personnel to use as a symbol of solidarity, and her idea spread to other parts of the state.
A new administrator for the Trial Court called for a meeting with this small group and with MACI members to take place on Wednesday, February 1, 2023, just prior to the week of the walkout. At the Wednesday meeting, he presented compensation changes that barely correct for inflation over the past 17 years and are far short of the new rates announced in January for federal court interpreters. The Court’s offer also did not match the rates that correspond to changes in the median income of workers with bachelor’s degrees, as per diems argued they should. But after an online poll, the Court’s offer was accepted by a majority.
The Court rejected other changes requested by per diems in exchange for accepting the new pay rates. Key among these is travel-time pay, which is critical now that interpreters have the option to work from home or in person. The Trial Court administrator agreed to meet again in May 2023 for further discussions on travel-time compensation and other important issues highlighted by per diems in a poll.
In the process of fighting for better compensation, per diem court interpreters in Massachusetts found out that the state OLA has entered a request for the fiscal 2024 budget to hire 50 additional staff interpreters. Many court interpreters work on a per diem basis as they do not have the option to work full time, and approval of the request may mean the probable loss of their livelihoods. As a result, the issues of compensation and working conditions have now taken a backseat to the struggle for preventing the loss of employment for many of the over 100 per diem court interpreters trained and vetted by the Massachusetts OLA, a majority of whom are certified by the Commonwealth or the NCSC. The Commonwealth’s district attorney offices and attorneys who work with the Committee for Public Counsel Services and other organizations draw from this pool of per diem court interpreters in their search for skilled and certified interpreters. If the state OLA’s request goes through, these DA offices would likely be limited in their ability to work with LEP victims and defendants as required by state and federal laws. After a well-deserved win in their compensation, per diem court interpreters in Massachusetts now face a more daunting struggle than originally thought. Stay tuned!
Montserrat Zuckerman is an Indiana and Massachusetts Spanish certified court interpreter with over twenty years of experience as an interpreter and translator in the legal and medical fields. She lives in Massachusetts where she works as a freelance translator and legal interpreter and has served for eight years as per diem court interpreter for the Massachusetts Office of Language Access. She advocates for better working conditions for per diem court interpreters who serve the Massachusetts courts and the Commonwealth’s growing LEP communities. Contact Montserrat: firstname.lastname@example.org
Main photo take from “Whether ‘rope pull’ is appropriate” by user Levi Leon, at ENGLISH LANGUAGE & USAGE on StackExchange, under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Body image taken from “How India Inc. is approaching salary increments in 2021” by Anushree Sharma at people matters, under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.
9 thoughts on “Massachusetts Per Diem Court Interpreters Win Pay Increase… But Now Face A New Challenge”
Interpreters are going to have to be tough the next few years. With the rise of automatic speech recognition and budget planning, we may see quite a few interpreters forced to pivot to new careers.
Great work deserve great win for our colleauges in Massachuestts. Life is changing and interpreters are part of many catogries who suffered alot from the economic situation. They need this raise badly and they should coninue fight for more. All the best.
I am a certified Spanish interpreter who has been working with the courts in Massachusetts since 2007. Without warning, they have cut us back to two days per week and won’t even communicate until the Friday of the week before which two days those will be. It makes scheduling with other agencies impossible. I am seeking work elsewhere. If anyone knows of court systems and/or agencies that are hiring for virtual work, I’m all ears! Thank you, colleagues!
Email me: email@example.com
I may be able to help direct you to some other options.
So, one of the most liberal government jurisdictions in the Country, when the rubber meets the road, will opt to reshuffle the whole deck, and deal themselves a new hand of faithful employees, the moment a fiscal adjustment is demanded of them by the current labor force via a naive, albeit well-intentioned collective bargaining agreement effort, carried out by court interpreters’ advocates? Suuuurpsise suuuurprise, Gomer. One thing y’all over there need to come to terms with is that when you threaten to disrupt their status quo and their hidden ways of dipping into the admin. budgets, and to stir the pot, even if you think everybody’s like, “Yeeeaaaayyy, we’re all lefty-poo, goodie-goodie-two-shoes socialists and gladly share our exploits,” they will vivisect you and eat your bleeding heart in a Boston minute as they ask you, “How do you like them apples?” Oh, might as well reconcile with it now. They’re going to can your butts, alright. Trust me. You’re cancelled. But every cloud has a silver lining. No hay mal que por bien no venga. The moral of the story is going to be to learn to embrace free market capitalism and foment competition. If you really believe the Velocity of Money increases when you pretend to care for the poor, by selling them the infrastructure bridge to nowhere where you’re going to fill their bellies “from the bottom up and the middle out,” by taxing the middle class to oblivion and redistributing their hard-earned wealth, boy oh boy, let me tell you, they’re 100% laughing their butts at you and even they can’t believe you’ve bought their Narnia Unicorn BS this long. The way to “stand up for yourselves,” as some like to put it, is not by pretend-playing the execution of an obviously weak strong-armed liberal syndicalism gambit – Gimme-Gimme or we walk out! – Leave that to the mob in the ports and the construction industry. They got the muscle and lack of scruples to set that up. Rather, do get together and agree to compete on an equal footing. Be innovative. Embrace free market capitalism and competition, I could really lay out a big plan of approach and grassroots movement for system change, but I ain’t got a dog in your fight. You’re smart. Some of the most intelligent human resources out there. I can promise you one thing, unequivocally: If you just start fishing out of the right-side of the boat, you’ll see the light and be nestled in God’s heavenly glory. Dios aprieta pero no ahorca (God never gives you more than you can handle) pero… A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando (God helps those who help themselves).
Thank you, Montserrat, for your excellent research and presentation of this issue. It’s sad to see things take this turn. On the other hand, necessity stimulates innovation. The linguistic skills needed to work at the level of a certified court interpreter are transferable to the conference and business markets. I would encourage any professional interpreter to maintain a diverse portfolio or work and clients, to the extent it depends on them. Diversity=survival.
It breaks my heart to see all these efforts go down the drain because, basically… “zapatero a su zapato” (roughly, “showmakers, go make shoes”.) Interpreters are NOT negotiators, and don’t know all the nuances, rules and regulations, and whatever other skills and knowledge negotiators have. We are always complaining about bilinguals passing themselves off as interpreters, and yet that’s what interpreters are doing when they try to be “negotiators.” As long as interpreters continue to take it upon themselves to do the work that some other professional should be doing for them (i.e., negotiating, lobbying, advocating, litigating, whatever it is that is needed at some point in time that is NOT interpreting), these backhanded maneuvers will continue to take place to everyone’s detriment and dismay.
If you have a meeting scheduled for May 2023, please, please, PLEASE… get a professional to go in there with you!
Congratulations to Massachusetts Per Diems from your colleagues in Rhode Island! Organizing is a powerful tool!
In the long run, I believe the addition of fifty full-time positions for interpreters is a positive development. The cost of living in Massachusetts is very high and lots of us would prefer to have the security and benefits of a fulltime job. I see it as a win for the profession in general. Good work!
I recently retired from 22 yeas as a part-time staff court interpreter. Before that, I worked for 15 years as a freelance court interpreter. I think it’s great that the Massachusetts contract court interpreters received a pay raise! However, I think it’s expecting too much for the courts not to want to make interpreters employees if they can. The courts have no obligation to use part-time contractors, and honestly, interpreters can’t complain that they aren’t allowed to set their own schedules. That’s not how the market works. I felt I was extremely lucky to get a part-time staff position when my children were young and I had to be active in their lives, but later, when they were grown and out of the house, the part-time position seemed like not enough work or pay. BUT, the court system I worked for still didn’t need a full-time person in my position, so my job didn’t change. That’s the way the ball bounces.