Interpreters Respond to SOSi Union Bashing

Dear Colleagues,

This is our response to the letter Jessica Hatchette sent on 7/11/17 written in BLUE below.

She is sending out lies and misinformation to confuse people and make them scared of using our voice. This is precisely when we need to come together, especially with contract renewals right around the corner. They know that when we are united, they can’t stop us for getting fair treatment.

In Solidarity,

EOIR Interpreters United

From all of us at SOSi, we hope you enjoyed your 4th of July and our entry into summer.  We appreciate all that you do for SOSi, and for our nation’s immigration courts.  You are part of an independent, well-educated, and highly-skilled group of individuals and companies that is critical to SOSi meeting its obligations under the Department of Justice, Executive Office of Immigration Review’s (EOIR) contract. You play a vital role in the nation’s immigration system by delivering professional language interpreter services in the courts. Then why is SOSi not paying us rates that do reflect the highly-skilled group that we are? Why does SOSi continue to de-assign cases and cancel travel assignments at the last minute leaving colleagues stranded and without pay?

In anticipation of The News Guild-Communications Workers of America (TNG-CWA) upcoming meeting, which is organized to encourage the unionization of the EOIR independent contractor community, we believe it is in your interest to fully understand what it means to be in a union, and how it could alter the freedom and flexibility you enjoy as an entrepreneur and small business owner-interpreter or freelancer. Why does SOSi suddenly care about our bottom line and our freedom? Could it be that if we have a voice at the table through a union SOSi might have to actually listen to us?

How does the Union become the representative of interpreters and what does signing a Union card mean? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would conduct a secret-ballot election in which interpreters would hold an up-or-down vote on union organization.  The NLRB requires that at least 30% of eligible voters sign union cards before proceeding with such an election, and they will attempt to persuade you to sign.  Please proceed with caution.  A Union card is a binding legal document between you and the Union.  It formally authorizes the Union to be your exclusive bargaining representative.  Union cards can be used for multiple purposes, including recognition of the union without an election. (This is only possible if SOSi recognizes our union without an election, which they won’t, so we will have to sign cards and then have an election) It is like signing a blank check. (Not at all a blank check, it is not a financial obligation) Make sure you know what you are signing and the commitment it entails. We, the EOIR interpreters, are the union. The union is not just a third party organization trying to come in  and force something on us. We build the union, we run it, and the larger union provides us with the support of legal counsel, experienced negotiators.

What does it mean to be unionized, and what happens if the union is voted in? If the Union is certified by the NLRB, it means the union will exclusively represent your interests on all matters involving wages, benefits, hours, work assignments, and other parts of your working relationship with SOSi.  You will no longer be able to deal with SOSi individually, and you risk losing the ability to negotiate directly with us for assignments and rates, amongst other items. This is absolutely not true. We will still have the right to communicate directly with SOSi, but we will also have the added protection of a union if something goes wrong. If the Union is voted in, your wages, benefits, hours, and other elements of your work must be negotiated through a collective bargaining agreement. This is one of the best parts, they cannot hire people to undercut wages or bully individuals into desperate situations. This is an uncertain process which is not guaranteed to meet your needs as a professional interpreter.  If we do not like the contract that we get as a union, we can vote it down and go back to individual contracts.

If the Union is elected, would I have the option of remaining a self-employed independent contractor with SOSi?

You will not be able to remain a self-employed independent contractor.  Unions can only represent “employees.”  As such, if you become an employee, every aspect of your “employment” will be regulated by the collective bargaining agreement, which again, is not guaranteed to be in your interest.  In addition, your state and federal tax status could change. This industry will always require a portion of the workforce to remain independent contractors. In California, TNG-CWA organized the District Courts. There also remains a large independent contract population in the courts. They get better rates because of the union contract. It’s a win-win. As an employee we are only responsible for half the amount of taxes, which would get taken out of our paychecks. Since most of us will continue as independent contractors in other workplaces we will still get to write off the expenses as we are accustomed to doing for that work.

How much are Union dues and where do they go? As a party to a Union, you are obligated to make monthly payments which can go up at any time.  While dues vary from union to union, one example is that of Local 39000 (TNG-CWA) in California who charges 1.65% of your wages as dues.  This means if your yearly gross salary as an employee is $50,000, you could pay $825 in dues with no guarantee of getting a better deal in return.  Typically, a portion of your dues will go to paying the union’s own officials and employees, political activities and lobbying, overhead, and union administration.  You should be sure you understand how much of your dues will benefit you directly and how much will be sent away for non-SOSi related purposes. The average dues for a new union in TNG-CWA are 1.34%. We do not pay dues until we vote on the union contract. That way we get to see if the contract affords us the cost of dues. That means we do not have any financial risks. We have an opportunity to change our profession for the better.