Interpreters get union contract
By BRAD SHANNON
July 03, 2011
Washington is one of 14 states that pay medical
interpreters to help Medicaid clients with limited
English skills talk with their doctors. Now, it might
be the only state with interpreters who are protected
by a union contract.
Last week, about 1,600 independent contractor
interpreters - who are represented by the Washington
Federation of State Employees - ratified a contract
with the state. It assures them pay of $30 per hour and
creates a system for allotting work that cuts out a
The vote was 256-3 and the contract took effect Friday,
the first day of the new budget year.
"We consider it a huge victory ... It's the first union
contract for interpreter contractors in the nation,"
Spanish-language interpreter Victor Hidalgo said from
Snohomish County, where he has provided services for
about three years.
The one-of-a-kind agreement comes just a few months
after the federation and interpreters fought off Gov.
Chris Gregoire's proposal to cut state spending for
interpreter services in the face of a $5 billion budget
Sen. Ed Murray led Democrats in putting in about $8.8
million of state funds for the program, and that is
matched by $10.9 million in federal money.
Murray said interpreters are needed to help prevent
health problems for patients and legal liabilities. He
said it was "a personal priority" for him to keep the
funds as a budget writer and that his Republican
counterparts agreed late in their negotiations.
The budget also requires the state to revamp its
interpreter system, which now pays about eight
independent "brokers," who in turn farm out work to
foreign-language agencies that do the hiring and
assigning of interpreter work. A new system due after
Jan. 1 eliminates brokers and uses online scheduling
Federation organizer Sarah Clifthorne said the
double-layer of administration led to 44 percent of
state payments going to middlemen. There also were
illogical assignments - with Tacoma-based interpreters
going to jobs in Seattle and vice versa, she said.
With the changes, Clifthorne said, "the state will stop
wasting money and it will help interpreters make a
living. Right now they spend all their time driving
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