The Ugly Truth About Being a VRS Interpreter

June 17, 2018, DSTidbit News interviewed an anonymous source about the current pay rate situation with Z/Purple. Some questions that the community has brought up were discussed during the interview to better clarify what is really going on within the Industry and how it's impacting interpreters. These answers help clarify what changes have been happening and how it's impacting the quality of services.

Trisha: I'd be interested in hearing about your wages. People are under the impression that interpreters were given lush pay starting when the industry began. People don't seem to think that there's a justifiable reason behind interpreters asking for more money. Others left education interpreting because they were making way more as VRS interpreters. 

Unidentified Interpreter: I’m trying to understand. VRS started more than 20 years ago correct? The wages are NOT the same now, not for me not for anyone. The VRS companies have done a very good job of pushing out one way or another the more experienced and “more certified” Interpreters because they had been around longer at that higher pay rate.

When the companies increased our workload these Interpreters confronted the companies telling them it was not right for our work and profession. That this would negatively impact our quality to the customers. In my center there was a standard tagline response “well then maybe VRS isn’t for you” and directions on how that VI could leave the company or reduce their hours.
And eventually it worked, the company wouldn’t budge and those Interpreters left because of work expectation that conflict with quality of service.

They have also pushed out those with legal certifications (we won’t get started on the RID issues)
But the facts: my center used to employ 5-7 Interpreters that were legally certified (SCL) on a regular basis. 3 of them were full time and the others worked at least part-time hours. So that at any given time I could call for a legal team and get that support. But when Purple increased our workload and cut our pay. Also not providing an increase in pay for those that went and got their SCL. I no longer see those Interpreters. The 3 that were full time have become “Flex” and only work a few hours a month because Purple will not pay them what they are compensated outside of VRS.

Ultimately who suffers? The Deaf community. Now we have less highly qualified Interpreters working in VRS.

That is the issue.

Some new hires in my center last summer commented on making more waitressing than in the VRS center.

I may or may not understand your question enough to answer it correctly. So there are several facets to this.

20 years ago I wasn’t interpreting yet so I can’t speak to the wages of Interpreters then. But VRS companies were also getting “start-up costs” when it came to their reimbursement (I’d have to check my facts but somewhere from $8-12/minute. Rates were annually determined by the FCC

Then fraud occurred and they were lowered to 6 along with being fined millions (Purple totaled 21 million) As a result of the fraud the FCC using ROLKA did audits on all companies So some of this is redundant. As a result, the Interpreters wages were cut.

I have a colleague who just went back to educational interpreting because the wages are better there.

Purple does not even allow a wage adjustment if a VI goes and gets their masters or more certifications. Each VI stays the same regardless of their skills. Suppose an interpreter starts out as a new graduate making their “incoming rate” with no experience. They work for Purple for 5 yrs making the same. An outside agency will pick them up and pay them considerably more and they will quit VRS. They now have 5 yrs of experience but because Purple doesn’t give raises they won’t stay in VRS. And they will be replaced by another newbie.

We understand new Interpreters need employment too. But when Purple (and Sorenson) limit teaming. Purple does not provide any kind of extra support for new hires or graduates or anyone with less experience. So pretty much the calls get jacked up - to put it bluntly.

But because all call content is confidential they know we VIs are “muzzled” in a way. I have teamed supported a call with a new hire who couldn’t even sign “train” correctly!

Trisha: Ok and my question is this: some people in ZVRS/Purple say that they’re filtering out the better quality interpreters and letting go the ones that don’t meet minimum standards then opening up hiring Thoughts on that?

Are other providers having these problems? You say Sorenson and ZVRS/Purple limit teaming. Are you saying that CONVO allows teaming and gives a better work environment than other agencies? Back in 2003, interpreters were short in education because VRS was paying better. That’s what I’m asking. People are under the assumption that some interpreters are not willing to advance I’ve had other comments say that interpreters are overpaid in some parts of the country so some deaf people don’t sympathize

Unidentified Interpreter: Yes, Purple sets up KPIs for our log in. (Login is the time an interpreter sits at the screen ready to take calls) Purple will write an interpreter up for not meeting that KPI standard and we believe there is an aim at the better-qualified Interpreters (because of their experience the naturally get a better wage - or have been with the company before they really gouged their hiring rate.

Interpreters have gotten written up/disciplined for being below this login by hundredths of a percentage. This adds up to maybe 3 minutes! Mind you if an interpreter is called away from the system to have a meeting with their manager those minutes for “log in expectation” are not taken out of their work time. This is a Purple thing. They expect VIs to make up minutes when not on the system -even if we can’t be interpreting because the system is down.
That’s like telling someone who works in a factory to continue to make the engine parts without giving them all the nuts and bolts!

These are the working conditions the professional highly qualified Interpreters say “oh forget that. I can work somewhere else get respect and paid better” I can’t speak to CONVO's teaming policy very well as I haven’t talked to their Interpreters. I know Sorenson has a “too much“ policy and Purple will soon be implementing one.

Trisha: What is a "too much" Policy? 

Unidentified Interpreter: Sorenson has a threshold  that limits the amount of using team interpreters too much, then the company policy, then they are subject to discipline.