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AB 5: When Lawmakers Define Our Profession for Us, It's A National Problem


California-based linguists, scroll to the end to



Suddenly it's August and we are in the final days of the California legislative session. At InterpretAmerica, we joined the effort to protect the livelihood of independent contractor interpreters and translators in this state a bit more than a year ago, when California's gig workers bill, AB 5, was basically a done deal.

Now, a year later and much sausage-making behind us, AB 2257, the final bill designed to "fix" problems in the original legislation, will be heard by California's Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, August 17. This is our last chance to get the bill amended to exempt "professional translators and interpreters" from AB 5.

What will be the final outcome of the collective and nationally-unified effort our profession has made to reject having our work be defined by others? If you are based in California, this weekend is the time for one final push to try and get reasonable language into AB 2257 that will allow our professions to continue their important work without huge disruption. Guidance for what to do is at the end of this blog.

This year-long process has taught us many things, but the single most important lesson for all of us, regardless of where we live, has been the peril that the translation and interpreting professions face because nobody understands what we do. We have not yet reached sufficient maturity, visibility and respect to be thought of as professions. And that fact has put us in great danger.

The American Translators Association published an open letter to the California Assembly and Senate today (August 14) in a final attempt to convince lawmakers that we, not state lawmakers, should be the ones defining our professional identity. The letter is cogent and direct and provides an excellent analysis of how flawed the current language in AB 2257 is.

If this bill passes as is, interpreters and translators will be classified as mere service providers to a “referral agency," along with a host of other non-professionalized workers, including dog walkers and yard cleaners. The complex work of language service agencies will be inappropriately forced into a business model that is simply not feasible, and certification is applied in a way which will exclude most interpreters and translators.

In what a skeptic might call a “bait and switch,” translators and interpreters now find themselves included under “referral services,” lumped in by way of an apparent willy-nilly add-on clause with a host of non-professional workers such as dog walkers and dog groomers, yard cleaners, movers, and errand runners. While such workers are needed and desired, they are in no way in the same class as professional translators and interpreters with advanced university degrees and advanced professional training in fields such as law, science and medicine, finance and accounting, or numerous technical or engineering fields. They are also the only workers listed who will also be required to meet the higher standard of holding certification where it is available.
...Translators and interpreters are highly educated and highly trained professional service providers who undertake life-long education and professional development. Over 95% of ATA members have university or advanced degrees, and most specialize in complex fields such as software localization, legal proceedings, medical translation or interpreting, financial translations, or educational interpreting.

American Translators Association Open Letter to the California Assembly and Senate, August 14, 2020

The potential negative consequences of this misclassification of our professions goes far beyond California's plight. Currently, and after other hard-fought battles, language services are classified at the Federal level as knowledge-based professional services. AB 2257 downgrades our status in California to non-professional workers. That Federal classification is hugely important when federal contracts are awarded to fund critical language services, such as those provided in Federal immigration court. For example, professional services can demand higher fees.

California is not the only state eyeing laws to reclassify gig-workers as employees. In the fallout of the poorly-designed AB 5, thousands of practicing interpreters and translators not only are at risk of losing their livelihoods, but of being legally reclassified as non-professionals. This will be one giant step back for us and for those who depend upon the services we provide in the state with the largest population in the United States.

What will be the ultimate, if perhaps unintended, consequences of this reclassification? We all know that our professions extend across state and national borders. How will this demotion impact who hires us, at what rates and under what terms? Will other states and even the federal government model additional laws on California?

AB 2257 shows the peril our professions face precisely because, as the ATA statement reads, "When we do our work well, we are invisible. It is when we are not there to perform the work, or our work is either not done or done poorly by an unqualified person or machine, that our importance is made clear."

The American Translators Association has said it clearly and unambiguously:

Legislators of California, this is your chance to recognize us and the invaluable services we provide to the people of California and the world. We are highly educated, highly-skilled PROFESSIONALS on par with the recognized professions and other highly-skilled wordsmiths and creative professionals already exempted from the ABC test such as graphic designers, copy editors, and freelance writers [under AB 5].  
We believe our profession should be included under the professional services section of this legislation and that the verbiage should include “professional translators and interpreters.

CoPTIC's year-long effort to let us define ourselves has borne positive fruit. Lawmakers know who we are and many understand what we do much better than they did a year ago. Just today, CoPTIC received word from an interpreter and sole bread-winner in her Southern California city that her Senator finally grasped the distinction between a translator and interpreter. Advocacy works.

If you are in California, this is the last chance to urge them to do the right thing, put political jockeying aside, and allow us to do our highly-skilled work, professionally, without interference, and with respect.

If you are outside California, you can support the autonomy of interpreters and translators by donating to CoPTIC.



Time is short. The Appropriations Committee meets Monday August 17. We urge you and all who support you to call and say:

"My name is [first and last name]:

Unless amended to include under professional services for translators and interpreters, I oppose AB2257."

If Senators hear THAT simple message from YOU, their constituent, it makes a difference. It can make THE difference.

Additional talking points include:

  • Federal policy treats translators and interpreters as professional services.So should California’s: The General Services Administration (GSA) of the U.S. government considers language services to be knowledged-based professional services and includes them in the professional service schedule. The state should not demote and downgrade them. 

  • The “Referral agency” scheme does not work: Language Service Companies (LSCs) add inextricable value to the final product of translation and interpreting. They are not mere match makers and don’t fit the definition of a referral agency limited to administrative tasks.

  • Interpreters and translators share very similar skill sets. Both deserve to be under professional services. 


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