In policy and politics, there’s an old adage in the United States—as California goes, so goes the nation. Whether or not you believe this political truism, it is looming large over interpreters and translators in the state of California and potentially in other states as well. A bill that would reclassify all translators and interpreters as employees of their clients (CA AB5) is slated to be presented at a Senate Appropriations Hearing on August 12, 2019, the last hurdle the bill would have to clear before being introduced for a vote in the state Senate. The bill was passed in the California Legislative Assembly earlier this year.
If you are unfamiliar with CA AB5, the bill basically seeks to stop the “Uberization” of a whole lot of occupations that the bill’s sponsor Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) considered part of the “gig” economy. Interpreting and translation have been erroneously lumped into this group.
To be fair, there are employers out there who classify interpreters as independent contractors but treat them like employees. This is wrong. However, the number of interpreters in this situation pales in comparison to the thousands of interpreters and translators who work successfully—and by choice—as independent contractors for a diverse portfolio of clients, from local school districts to medical clinics and from California state government to Silicon Valley tech giants. Not to mention the state and federal courts. Righting one isolated wrong by upending the professional practice of the overwhelming majority of interpreters and translators in the state isn’t just a bad idea, it’s bad policy.
In its current form, the bill includes a long list of professions and occupations that are exempted from its provisions—from doctors and lawyers to hairdressers and real estate agents. However, interpreters and translators are NOT currently included on this list. What will this mean if the bill ultimately becomes law in its current form?
Put simply, any California-based interpreter or translator or any interpreter or translator performing work in the state of California wishing to not be classified as an employee of every single language service company they work for in the state would be required to incorporate as a business and be subject to all laws, regulations and reporting requirements affecting California corporations. Working as a sole proprietor or LLC would no longer suffice.
Needless to say, this would place undue and onerous financial, administrative and reporting burdens on thousands of independent interpreters and translators, forcing individuals to act as corporations. It would also place enormous burdens on language service companies wishing to hire interpreters and translators in California and may well push more and more interpreting and translation work out of the state.
InterpretAmerica respects the right of each interpreter or translator to study CA AB5 and develop his or her own opinion about its potential effects on the language professions. But we have determined that if the bill passes without including interpreting and translation on the list of exempted professions, its negative effects on the overall language professions will be far greater than any potential benefits accrued by a comparatively small group of colleagues who have been misclassified as independent contractors while expected to behave as employees.
Let’s put it this way. Passing CA AB5 will be like going after a fly in your kitchen with a sledgehammer rather than a flyswatter. You will eventually take care of the nuisance caused by the fly, but the damage to the kitchen when you are done will take much more time and effort to repair.
We urge California lawmakers to legislate to the benefit of all interpreters and translators and include translation and interpreting on the list of occupations exempted from CA AB5.
Finally, if you are a translator or interpreter, we urge you to sign this open letter to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to help her understand why the language professions should be included on the list. You do NOT have to reside in California to sign the letter. The clock is ticking...