Video Relay Interpreters Begging for Fair Wages Faces High Priced Attorneys
June 13, 2018, ASLIU announced their bargaining update from their meeting In San Francisco CA with Purple/ZVRS management.
Sarah Spencer wrote a post about her personal story hoping that people would understand the importance of the negotiation going on. The main points in her post shared some critical issues such as workload increased by 20 percent but COLA (Cost of Living Adjustments) not being calculated in her wages and actually seeing her pay being cut along with her benefits. Rest time for interpreters has been cut. Their pay cut came after fraud was committed in 2010 by upper-level management.
"We are now negotiating our renewal and our company #ZVRS / #PurpleVRS once again refuses to provide COLAs or raises or even make us whole from the cuts we took to help them pay fines for upper management decisions to commit fraud in 2010." Sarah Spencer
It is unclear on whether this issue is solely at Purple/ZVRS or if there are other companies experiencing the same issues however several others are saying that this issue is not limited to Purple/Z because many VRS interpreters are saying the same thing across the board. A few years ago, because of the widespread issue of treatment towards interpreters, a union was formed. The union is called American Sign Language Interpreters United (ASLIU)
Some final comments from her post shared many interpreters passion for interpreting and the desire to continue to support the community but implore people to think about how interpreters are being treated.
"As Interpreters we are frustrated. This is not the way for us to provide quality interpreting to our customers. Many of my family and friends tell me to get out, I can probably find work somewhere else and yes as a certified interpreter I probably could. But then who is left to interpret for the Deaf people making calls. The majority would be new graduates with little experience. I love what I do. I love interpreting in VRS. And I stay to hopefully one day see these companies and the FCC actually care about what quality Interpreting means for the Deaf community." Sarah Spencer
The community is not holding VRS providers accountable. While this article zeroes focus on ZVRS/Purple Communications; they are not the only VRS provider that is guilty of these practices that are being mentioned. Interpreters have expressed that they've been afraid to speak up because of foreseeable repercussions including losing their job. Nobody should be afraid to lose their job for speaking out however that is the case in this case.
On June 15, 2018; Jeffrey Beatty speaks up on behalf of VRS interpreters in response to Sarah's post. "I must step in and protect Sign Language interpreters first! #ZVRS / #PurpleVRS management must treat SL Interpreters with respect. We rely on Sign Language interpreters as the first line contact, not #ZVRS / #PurpleVRS management at all."
The biggest thing behind this movement is paying for interpreters and downtime between calls. Here are some facts for people to consider
The VRS Industry is a 1.3 billion dollar industry that's having trouble paying their front line people fair wages? Back in 2015, Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, NY Jo Ellen DiGiovanni, director of the Rochester Sorenson VRS Interpreting Center, said "providers are being asked to improve their quality while their payments are being cut. “If there’s not the funding for that, we’re looking at the degradation of services we currently provide,” With this said, it doesn't seem odd that interpreters have been struggling with their income, however, it has been said that interpreters took a pay cut because of the fraud that upper-level management pulled back in 2010.
Who should be taking a pay cut? Interpreters who provide the services, or upper-level management? VRS providers got spoiled with the wages they were getting paid when VRS was regulated by FCC. Back in 2009, "The FCC says it reimburses these companies at a rate of about $390 per hour." This comes down to 6.50 an hour. That is a far cry from 4.06 a minute they are paid now. (only 2.44 a minute may seem little but that comes up to 146.40 an hour cut.)
It was management that was responsible for either setting up or authorizing these fraudulent calls and telling their interpreters to go along with it. There were providers that were shut down (such as Viable) for their large-scale fraudulent practices which hurt employees that were not directly involved in the scams. In the end, it was the interpreters that are now suffering the consequences because FCC decided that giving providers a shoestring budget would force more accountability out of them. The truth is, FCC does not see what happens behind closed doors because nobody is holding providers accountable for their actions. Another thing to be surprised by is, "The median estimated compensation for executives at ZVRS including base salary and bonus is $227,659, or $109 per hour. At ZVRS, the most compensated executive makes $700,000, annually, and the lowest compensated makes $57,000." Comparably
David Duarte commented on ASLIU post about their discussion with Z/Purple Communications. "I wonder when the VRS companies will recognize that interpreters don't grow on trees, the baby boomer interpreters are retiring, and there's not enough supply of experienced interpreters and new interpreters from the ITPs, yet the demand for our services continues to grow. That, and rising rates in the community will cause VIs to go where the pay is better."
This has triggered hashtags that are very general (not specific to one provider) but focuses on the movement behind getting better support for interpreters in order to provide better services in the VRS Industry. #weareVRS, #VRSUnion, and #ASLIU are all common hashtags.