Frustrated with their wages and what they see as unfair treatment by their employers, court interpreters staged a one-day walkout at the Napa County Superior Courthouse on Wednesday morning.
Napa County staff interpreters striking for equal wage growth and pay parity were joined by interpreters from Marin County as well as Mary Lou Aranguren, the legislative and bargaining representative for California Federation of Interpreters (CFI) Local 39000. CFI Collective Bargaining Region 2, which extends along the coast from Monterey to Del Norte counties, has been in negotiations with the courts since August 2016.
“The courts need to step up and change just a few things to get a deal and we’re hoping that they’ll understand that we’re serious,” Aranguren said. Staff court interpreters in the region are paid less than contract interpreters and are treated unfairly compared with other court employees, she said.
“They are paying big bucks for the contractors,” Aranguren said. “They recognize the market for this service except for the staff interpreters.”
Court interpreters employed by courts in 15 Northern California counties, including Napa and Marin, are all paid the same hourly wage, but their benefits vary depending on the county they work in, Aranguren said. In the region, she said, court interpreters on staff make $36.74 an hour while their federal counterparts and contractors make about $52 an hour.
“Every day, these ladies make 42 percent less than any contractor who walks through the door,” Aranguren said. She estimated that Napa County courts need four or five interpreters on any given day, but they only have two full-time interpreters on staff, which means that the gap is filled by hiring contract interpreters.
Aranguren said that the unfair wages paid to staff interpreters has caused some interpreters to choose contract work or work on the federal level instead. It has caused vacancies across the region, she added.
Napa County has three full-time positions for court interpreters, one of which was posted as an employment opportunity last fall, said Gloria Gonzalez-Martin, a staff interpreter in Napa County. The position hasn’t been filled, she said, because those who are qualified for it choose to work elsewhere.
The position, which is listed online, offers an annual salary of $76,419.20.
Gonzalez-Martin said that she has worked as an interpreter for more than 20 years and, in 2003, was the first interpreter on staff in Napa County.
“Overall I’m really happy,” Gonzalez-Martin said as she held a sign that read “end pay inequity” and handed out stickers to passersby. “I love Napa – I love interpreting, but I have a family,” she said. “I also have to support my family.”
Region 2 interpreters have been offered a 21 percent wage increase over three years, according to representatives with San Francisco County Superior Court, whose Chief Executive Officer Michael Yuen also acts as the CEO Regional (2) chair. That’s a $17,000 annual increase in compensation over the three-year term for full-time interpreters.
In an email to the Register, Yuen called the proposal “fair and reasonable” and said that the strike in Napa was “unfortunate.”
“By not embracing this salary structure and instead striking throughout the region,” he said, “the interpreters’ union is actually hurting the women, minorities and non-English speakers who seek to access their right to justice in Northern California but instead see their day in court delayed because interpreters are on the picket line rather than in court providing vital interpreting services.”
Representatives with Yuen’s office said that no cases that needed an interpreter were postponed as a result of Wednesday’s strike.
Napa County Superior Court CEO Richard D. Feldstein referred questions regarding the strike to Yuen’s office. He did not say whether or not the one-day walkout interfered with any court activities.
Napa County’s other interpreter, Carmen Marroquin, said that there is more to being an interpreter than just interpreting.
“People just see the daily interpretation but there’s a lot more to it,” Marroquin said. In addition to interpreting language, interpreters must also know legal terminology, slang words, and be able to pick up on nuances.
“It takes a lot of training,” said Marta Selvi, an interpreter in Marin County courts. “Someone who’s a swimmer just can’t go and swim in the Olympics – being bilingual doesn’t mean you can be an interpreter.”
Selvi said that she will even accompany individuals to the clerk’s office and explain the judge’s orders to them.
“We really feel like we’re helping people,” Selvi said.