The 30% Court Interpreter Paycut

Cartoon courtesy of Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. 
Most of our colleagues have probably all been following the debacle about court interpreters in the UK -- and so have we. The best summary we've found so far comes courtesy of Rainy London (Valeria Aliperta's blog). The summary: the UK government tries to save money on court interpreting by giving the nationwide contract to a private company, the infamous ALS, which obviously has an incentive to cut costs -- after all, they want to make a profit. The'd promised the Ministry of Justice that they'd provide low-cost interpreting services, so in order to make any sort of profit on this deal, they have to pay their interpreters peanuts (they are not very picky about whom they choose, read on about Jajo the interpreter bunny). While this is still playing out, the end result has been, thus far, that thousands of interpreters have refused to work, leaving the courts in dire straits. Alejandro Moreno-Ramos' cartoon sums up the situation in just a few sentences (visit his hilarious Mox blog or buy the book).

On the other side of the Atlantic, many thousands of miles away, something similar is happening (minus the interpreter unity and the media attention). Here in Nevada (Clark County), the effects of the global economic crisis are hard to miss. Nevada leads the nation in many things, including unemployment rates and foreclosures. It's a sad thing to witness, and as is to be expected, the local and state governments are trying to make ends meet with decreasing tax revenue from gaming operations and tourism dollars (hotels are still full, but they are much cheaper). Furloughs have been introduced for many state workers, and universities are closing entire programs and departments.

The latest victims of the downturn guessed it: court interpreters. Effective February 15, 2012, Clark County gave a new contract to all certified contract court interpreters, reducing their rate by an astonishing 30%. Unfortunately, many fellow court interpreters have come to rely on the court system to feed them work so much that they've had no choice but to accept the new conditions. Judy, however, has chosen to send a message and has not signed the new contract, thus ending her working relationships with the courts. She still interprets in court, but for private parties (law firms, etc.). Ironically, the rate has only been decreased for certified Spanish interpreters. All other languages are still paid at the old rate.

What do you think, fellow interpreters? We understand that governments need to save funds, but reducing the rates of contractors who are such an important part of the legal puzzle is concerning. Court interpreters receive no benefits, insurance, vacation time or even mileage and travel time, and a 30% decrease in rate means that more and more top-notch interpreters will look for work elsewhere. The people who suffer are invariably those who need it most: defendants in criminal cases. We don't know what the answer is, but for now, Judy is not willing to work for 30% less. Court interpreters go through a very challenging and long certification process in Nevada (with a  3% pass rate on the first try), and the pay rate doesn't do all that work and expertise that one needs to become a court interpreter any justice.

We'd love to hear your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

Maybe we should start a petition on and deliver all the signatures in support our colleagues in Nevada.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 3, 2012 at 7:34 PM said...

@Anonymous: excellent idea! We would happily sign it. :)

Lina Drew said...

Well done, Judy! This is the only way we are going to succeed as professional interpreters, we have to demand fair compensation for our services or this cycle will never be broken!
I love reading about "Twin Translations"... keep up the good work. Ladies, you're making a huge difference in our field :)
Lina Drew, IN Certified Court Interpreter

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 4, 2012 at 8:41 AM said...

@Lina: thanks for reading and commenting! We wish more fellow court interpreters would follow suit, but we understand that everyone's situation is different. But as you said, the only have to change anything is if all of us demand fair compensation of our critical services. Thanks for your kind words; you made our day. Here's to certified court interpreters everywhere. BTW - has Indiana reduced the rate for court interpreters? Just curious to hear what's happening in other states.

Anonymous said...

I will make one point that I think is very crucial. The author states:

(quote) We understand that governments need to save funds, but reducing the rates of contractors who are such an important part of the legal puzzle is concerning. Court interpreters receive no benefits... The people who suffer are invariably those who ... We don't know what the answer is, but... (end quote)

You can read hundreds if not thousands upon thousands of articles, commentaries, letters to the editor, web sites, etc., stating one variation or another on the same theme, i.e., we understand but not our sacred cow.

This is not solidarity. This is not a way to stop this run away train of the US two-party ruling class and its attack upon we the people, the services we need to maintain civil society, and the idea of community.

If we accept the idea that "government needs to save funds" (i.e., impliment cuts), then it is either your ox or you neighbor's ox that is going to be gored or, more realistically since there are thousands of oxen to be gored, it is likely going to be your ox, you neighbor's, you other neighbor's ox, your mother's ox, your friend's ox, and most all the rest of the oxen.

We should not be playing into their game. These arguments about cuts (or as the author euphemistically referred to them, "savings") made by the ruling elite must be resisted, not turned into a "but my issue is unique so spare me, please, pretty please". Time to fight the two-party ruling class consensus and its prescriptions.

David Brookbank

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 12, 2012 at 11:06 AM said...

@David: thanks for your comment. Excellent points. We are in agreement with you and are resisting playing the game, as you say.This is a complex issue, and we are not sure what the right answers are. Thank heavens that we don't have to make public policy or allocate America's scarce government funds. :)

Kasia Beresford on May 23, 2012 at 1:42 AM said...

Well done, Judy. There comes a time when you have to make a stand. Our rates are not exactly generous to start with compared to other professional groups. We are underestimated and undervalued.

Best wishes from the UK!

Maja on May 24, 2012 at 11:32 AM said...

It seems to be a truly universal trend a these days. I recently read about a similar situation in Sweden, i.e. paycuts leading to poor quality of service.
I think it's particularly disturbing in this case that it concerns only one language pair. If services are financed from public funds there should be no discrimination based on language, after all, you work just as hard between English and Spanish as between English and German or any other language pair.
In my country the rates for court translations and court interpreting are set by law. Since I'm not a certified interpreter I do not know the rates, but I do know that rates for translations are relatively generous compared with "free-market-rates". However, translators undercut these rates and each other to get work. There is very little if any unity among them.

Anonymous said...

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times