On Wednesday, we had an op-ed published in The Californian. Our article is one of a flood of news stories, forum threads and social media discussions from all over the world highlighting the very real, and very negative effects that AB 5 is having on translators and interpreters in California. The public pressure is part of an organized campaign to convince lawmakers to revisit AB 5 and carve out an exemption for interpreters and translators.
AB 5, the so called "gig worker" bill, went into effect on January 1, 2020. Independent contractors working in professions that did not secure an exemption before the law was passed are now automatically classified as employees.
The effects of this bill have been been immediate and alarming. Many language service companies have stopped hiring California-based interpreters. Others are requiring linguists to incorporate as S or C corporations even though the law itself stipulates that becoming a sole proprietor o LLC business should be sufficient to avoid reclassification.
Skeptical? Listen to this compelling interview with Mary Konstaninidou, a Greek-English translator who is now facing the prospect of having to leave California after 30 years to save her career.
There is widespread confusion as to how this law actually applies to everyday scenarios in our profession. Here is just a sampling of the kinds of questions coming to CoPTIC, the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California:
Does the law apply if the agency is located in California but the professional and the event are not?
Does the law apply if the professional is based in California but the agency and the event are not?
Does the law apply if the event is in California but the agency and the professional are not?
Does the law apply if the professional is hired from California by an agency in California for an event held abroad?
Language service companies are currently in retreat from California. And that means real wages lost to real people. It is beyond ironic that AB 5 is actively harming two major constituencies the bill was designed to protect: women and immigrants. As we say in our op-ed:
"Our professions are overwhelmingly female. Seventy-six percent of interpreters are women, many of them immigrants. AB 5 upends two professions, interpreting and translating, where women not only have broken the glass ceiling, but also are in the majority and leading the way.
The only way to fix this dire situation for interpreters and translators is a full exemption for our profession, like those given to doctors, lawyers, therapists and other traditionally autonomous occupations, including repossession agents. We didn't have the clout those other professions did last year, but we may have it now.
CoPTIC*, the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California, is leading the effort to find legislators who will sponsor a new bill aimed at "cleaning up" AB 5. They go back into session next week. Many of our colleagues have been visiting their local lawmakers to educate them about how real people with real jobs are now losing their ability to earn a living as a linguist.
If you haven't taken action yet, there is still time! Every call, every office visit, every social media post that tags your local lawmaker matters. These efforts can tip the tables in our favor. Not sure what to say? CoPTIC has provided everything you need to take action.
InterpretAmerica has always sought to advocate for the best interests of our entire profession, not just one corner of it. We urge everyone to engage in this issue and help protect the livelihood of our colleagues and friends.
*InterpretAmerica is a founding member of CoPTIC and a current Steering Committee member.