Diligence by Linguists in California Pays Dividends in Relief Bill
An updated AB 2257, which benefits California interpreters and translators, is approved.
As reported in a previous online MultiLingual News article on August 10, California’s AB 2257 is an attempt to loosen a previous gig economy clean-up bill. It was authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who also championed AB 5, the general workers-rights gig economy bill that went into effect January 1 of this year. AB 5 states that most workers are employees, and as employees, they should be afforded labor protections such as minimum wage laws, sick leave, and unemployment and workers’ compensation benefits — benefits that do not apply to independent contractors. However, actual independent contractors were alarmed by the bill. Interpreters and translators in California were unhappy with AB 5, saying it had devastating effects on their ability to work in the state.
As a result, hundreds of California translators and interpreters formed a coalition to educate their lawmakers on the topic. Since fall 2019, before AB 5 even went into effect, they asked legislators to understand that imposing employee status on interpreters and translators is disastrous. Yesterday, their efforts proved successful.
Lorena Ortiz Schneider, founder of the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC), once again offered an update — this time, after the California state Senate Appropriations Committee approved an updated version of AB 2257 on August 20. A previous version of AB 2257 was problematic and unclear.
Breakdown from Lorena Ortiz Schneider
Does using our voice with our lawmakers make a difference? The months-long advocacy campaign by interpreters and translators in California shows the answer is yes, especially when working together in a large and nimble coalition, focused on an urgent objective.
On August 20, the state Senate Appropriations Committee approved and sent to the floor, on a unanimous 7-0 vote, a vastly improved version of AB 2257, authored by Lorena Gonzalez, the architect of AB 5. As amended, the bill comes close to fulfilling the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California’s (CoPTIC) goal to protect the livelihoods of interpreters and translators in the state and preserve language access for millions of Californians.
The committee action came three days after the hearing at which more than 50 members of the Coalition weighed in with a flood of remote testimony, reflecting nearly every area of interpreting and translation and from every part of California. The committee members, five Democrats and two Republicans, had to absorb the wave of unified comments to oppose the bill unless amended. Callers swamped the committee phone lines and stretched on for half an hour.
The bill aims to clean up several problems with the sweeping worker misclassification law that took effect this year, AB 5. In January, multiple bills sought to clarify and rectify the law. In the end, with interruptions in the legislative session caused by COVID and a docket reduced due to the legislature’s diminished bandwidth, only one bill survived to accomplish all priorities of lawmakers: AB 2257.
The stakes were high for getting it right. The revised bill mostly does.
It explicitly recognizes individuals acting as sole proprietors, in three areas of exemption from the scope of AB 5 offered under the bill: for Professional Services; for Business to Business relationships; and for service providers through a Referral Agency.
It restores translators, and without restrictive conditions, under the exemption for Professional Services in the bill.
It exempts interpreters under the Referral Agency/ Service Provider relationship, where captioners for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included. For interpreters to qualify, the terms require that the interpreter be registered or certified in a language with an available credential offered by a list of certifying bodies, associations and government entities. Languages without an available certification are also exempt under this section. It also allows for credentialing by other state-approved bodies, including educational institutions.
The request of a reasonable grace period to the terms of the new requirements affecting interpreters is in order, to allow for compliance and to protect language access. The progress achieved in the substance of the bill would be undercut without a reasonable on-ramp for implementation.
In the final phase of the fight over AB 2257, CoPTIC made inroads for its goals of preserving language access and removing the unfounded presumption by some lawmakers, including the author of AB 5, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, that misclassification was a common problem among linguists in California. A memo released in early August by the Coalition fact-checked a frequent claim by Gonzalez, that 4,111 interpreters were found to be misclassified in the state since 2015. Careful analysis of data from the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) revealed that the real number was less than 300, and encompassing both translators and interpreters, only about 6% of what the lawmaker claimed.
Appreciation for the major improvements in the bill extend from Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Labor Committee Chair Jerry Hill, who ends his long tenure in Sacramento this year. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino, who represents cities with diverse immigrant populations, including Glendale and South Pasadena, made a priority of improving the bill and delivered on that goal.
The work of the Coalition can be a blueprint for efforts to earn respect and relief for professional linguists from well-intended but overly sweeping bills on worker misclassification in other states. At the federal level, legislation similar to AB 5, the PRO Act, could be a priority for Democrats if they regain a Senate majority, having already gained approval by the House of Representatives. The all-but-conclusive victory earned in California shows that advocacy driven by constituents can reshape policy for the better, but it takes grassroots organizing, teamwork, careful strategy, and bold advocacy in order to prevail.