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Uncertainty for Interpreters as Gig Economy Bill (AB5) Passes California Senate

Our last blog post on California AB5 was published on August 30th. Only 11 days by the calendar but several light years in terms of what has taken place since then. One thing is clear, we need representation.

Just interested in what you can do? Scroll down to the Next Steps section!

As we went to press, Barry Olsen and Lorena Ortiz Schneider were featured in a Wall Street Journal article on AB5 and its uncertain impact on professions like ours.

AB5 Update

As of today, September 12, here is where things stand with the bill:

On September 11, AB5 passed the California State Senate by a 29-11 vote.

The bill is now back in the Assembly for approval of changes made to the bill while in the Senate, a process known as "concurrence." If concurrence is denied (which is highly unlikely) the bill can be sent to a two-house conference committee. However, given the democratic super majority in the California Legislature this is also unlikely.

The bill will then go to Governor Newsom's desk for signature. He has indicated his intention to sign the bill.

Interpreters and translators are currently not counted among those freelance professions with an exemption from AB5's blanket reclassification as employees.

News of its passing has sparked many articles in the state and national media, as well as a lot of debate and speculation about its impact. Fundamentally, the bill, and the earlier California Supreme Court Dynamex decision it attempts to codify, is aimed at the employment practices of giant tech companies and app-based startups and their use of "gig" workers to fulfill what many see as core tasks to their business.

Interpreters and translators have been caught in the crossfire between this much larger struggle between huge corporations, changing employment trends and a fight for the future of labor unions as we have known them. Many traditional freelance professions (such as doctors, lawyers, hairdressers and photographers) have the lobbying infrastructure necessary to be heard in Sacramento and successfully carved out an exemption. The translation and interpreting profession mostly does not. If anything, the passage of AB5 without an exemption for translators and interpreters is a clear indication that our professions need to learn to advocate for themselves in the halls of power.

Action Update

Which brings us to where things stand with current efforts to seek either a full exemption or a delay to implementation for interpreters and translators:

The same passionate group of interpreters and language service company owners who were attempting to work behind the scenes (see our blogs from August 26 and August 30) has continued to press for some kind of reasonable mechanism to make sure this bill is not applied indiscriminately to our diverse professions.

A number of members of that group (InterpretAmerica included) chose to formalize the effort by forming a coalition and hiring an advocate to work directly with the players in the State Capitol. The group has named itself the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters in California (CoPTIC). Individual members have all contributed financially. The group is also running a GoFundMe campaign to help fund the lobbying effort. (You can see more information about CoPTIC at the end of this update.)

Over the past two weeks, this group has hustled to hire an advocate, has contacted more than 40 State Senators in the run up to yesterday's vote, and is now working on the next steps that can be taken to seek either a delay in the application of AB5 to our professions or the full exemption other freelance professions have secured.

Next Steps

So what can you do to keep the pressure on?

1. The moment has passed for calling your representatives, but that moment will likey arrive again. So now is a good time to get your "elevator" speech together about our professions and why it is important that we preserve the right to function as independent contractors. Here are some talking points to get you started:

- Interpreting and translation are part of a $50+ billion global industry, which is larger than the global music industry. We may be little seen, but we are integral to the modern, global, multilingual economy and are basically everywhere.

- If we are all forced to become employees, the impact will be widespread and problematic for healthcare, local governments, business and many other settings.

If you are in healthcare, stress that patient care will be immediately impacted if hospitals and healthcare providers cannot contract with interpreters who speak the many languages for which hospitals typically do not hire onsite employees to cover. (See the CHIA Statement on AB5).

- Most language service providers are small women-owned and/or immigrant-owned businesses who provide jobs for thousands of other women and immigrants across the state.

- Respect the autonomy of professional interpreters and translators in the same other, similar professions have been respected.

2. Sign the Veto AB5! Petition to let Governor Newsom know that this legislation should exempt translators and interpreters.

3. Donate to the CoPTIC GoFundMe campaign to help us pay for professional representation in Sacramento. This chapter of the fight will not be over until the Governor signs the bill into law. And even after that, there likely will be continued court and. legislative processes to address the many freelance professions, like translation and interpreting, that don't fit the "gig worker" model.



The Coalition of Practicing Translators & Interpreters of California, CoPTIC, was formed by a group of professional, working interpreters and translators in the state of California concerned with defending the independence of language professionals. We are composed of court, administrative hearing, and medical certified interpreters; conference and community interpreters; translation and interpretation educators; and certified translators. We are all practicing professionals. AB5 aims to rectify the misclassification of workers in several industries in California. Workers in some occupations are clamoring to be protected through AB5. However, professional interpreters and translators prize the long-standing independence that has defined our occupations. Lawmakers are learning of the serious risks of applying a cookie-cutter standard to our profession amid our lobbying to respect the autonomy that is a hallmark of our fields. We are working with a proven, professional policy advocate who represents our desire to remain autonomous and be included in the list of occupations already exempt from AB5.


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