04/17/2016 - Boston Herald Article and Letter Clarifying Inaccuracies
A journalist from the Boston Herald wrote an article about us on March 26, and we thank him for his interest in MACI. However, the MACI Board notes that it contains some factual inaccuracies. We have written a letter to the reporter/journalist correcting those inaccuracies and setting the record straight. For your information, we are including the letter following the article.
Link of the Boston Herald article:
Bob McGovern Saturday, March 26, 2016
PER DIEM WORKERS SEEK PARITY: Michael O’Laughlin, a Spanish interpreter who runs the interpreter program at Boston University, says the deck is stacked against part-time, per diem court interpreters.
Dozens of part-time court interpreters are prepared to go to war with the Bay State’s trial court system, arguing that they have been treated like second-class citizens and are being forced to find other work in order to pay the bills.
“They are taking apart what we have taken so long to create,” said Michael O’Laughlin, a Spanish interpreter who runs the interpreter program at Boston University. “A great deal is at stake. They are doing everything they can do to get rid of us. It’s terrible.”
A group of part-time, or per diem, interpreters have filed a class action lawsuit against Lewis “Harry” Spence, administrator of the trial court, and other higher-ups. They argue that they are not being paid the same as the full-time staff interpreters employed by the Office of Court Interpreter Services and aren’t getting benefits that they deserve. A full-time interpreter earns an average of $83,300 a year.
For example, the suit alleges that per diem interpreters are being paid hourly instead of for the required half-day and full-day rates. They are also not being paid in situations where they arrive for court and the party who needs an interpreter doesn’t show up, according to the suit.
Eventually, the part-time interpreters got fed up. They’re arguing that instead of independent contractors, they’re actually full-time employees who are being treated markedly different from those on staff.
“When they go to court, they have to operate under the same rules and procedures as the so-called staff interpreters,” said Alan Jay Rom, the attorney representing the interpreters. “Some of them are working the same hours as those on staff, but they aren’t paid a salary. They don’t get any benefits. They are employees under another name, and we think that’s illegal.”
All told, there are 175 interpreters in Massachusetts — only 24 of them full-time staffers.
Rom filed the initial suit in October, but the Supreme Judicial Court found that the case belonged in Superior Court. An amended suit was filed on Wednesday with new accusations — including allegations that the state retaliated against the interpreters by refusing to renew identification badges needed to get through court security.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Trial Courts, did not comment, citing pending litigation. A trial court spokeswoman acknowledged that the SJC moved the case to the Superior Court but did not respond to the ID badge allegations.
“The hardest thing for me is the uncertainty about our future. It seems like there have been reductions in payment,” said Luis Perez, a per diem interpreter, who said he was notified that his ID wouldn’t be renewed. “I just don’t know if there is a future in this profession.”
Letter by Norma Rosen-Mann, MACI president, to Mr. Robert P. McGovern clarifying inaccuracies:
Mr. Robert P. McGovern
Legal Columnist, Boston Herald
70 Fargo Street
Boston, MA 02210
Re: Article in Boston Herald on March 26, 2016 about Court Interpreters
Dear Mr. McGovern:
We sincerely want to thank you for your interest in our situation, reported in your article from March 26, 2016, namely, “Part-time court interpreters sue for more benefits.” We recognize that the issue we raised in the lawsuit is a complex one, and inaccuracies are possible, though we know you were sincere in your efforts to report our case to the public accurately.
The headline, which was undoubtedly written by an editor, inaccurately describes what our case is about. This is misleading because the members of MACI are not “part-time” and we are not suing for “more” benefits.
The per-diem interpreters are referred to as part-time interpreters. “Part-time interpreters” implies that we are part-time employees and, therefore, that we receive partial benefits. This is not the case. The Trial Court considers per-diem interpreters as “independent contractors” or vendors, and, as such, we receive no benefits at all; only employees may receive “benefits”. The Trial Court considers us as you might consider the electrician or plumber you call to your home to fix something broken. They fix it, you pay them, and they are free to do business with whomever they please and they control what they do, how they do it and when they do it.
Some of the per-diem interpreters who are members of MACI work in the courts on the same basis as the 27 staff court interpreters. Some work every day, or most days of the week, and we may work in several courts during the day, and, most importantly, we do our job according to specific rules that must be followed by all court interpreters. We are directed as to where we will work and when by the Trial Court Office of Court Interpreter Services (OCIS). We do not choose which court we will work in when called or scheduled. When doing our work, we do it exactly in the same way as do the 27 staff court interpreters. We follow a strict protocol prescribed by the Trial Court. We are, in effect, de facto employees with no benefits. It is the illegal misclassification as independent contractors, instead of as employees that the lawsuit is all about. If we were properly classified, we would get the benefits accorded to the staff court interpreters, even on a pro-rated basis, if we worked fewer hours than the staff court interpreters. There are staff court interpreters who do not work full-time and their benefits are pro-rated accordingly, but they are classified as employees.
The average salary of a full-time staff court interpreter classified as a state employee, in Massachusetts, is different from the reported approximate amount of $83,000. According to our estimates, that number should be around $78,000.
Per-diem court interpreters are paid on a half-day/full day basis, although, as described more fully in the complaint, which was sent to you, there are occasions when OCIS has violated its own Standards & Procedures provisions regarding payment. Per-diem interpreters do not receive a “salary”.
Again, we want to express our sincere appreciation for your interest.
Norma Rosen-Mann, President
Massachusetts Association of Court Interpreters (MACI)