SB 900 — A Starting Point for California Translators and Interpreters
In the latest development on the AB 5 front, amendments have been introduced to Senate Bill 900 (SB 900), which was originally introduced in the California Legislature on January 30, 2020 by the chair of the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee. SB 900 creates an exemption for specified translators and interpreters from the application of the ABC Test under AB 5, and instead mandates application of the multifactor Borello Test to determine employee or independent contractor status. While SB 900 is an improvement on the status quo under AB 5, in particular due to the express inclusion of sole proprietors in the permissible forms of business entities, there are several issues of varying degrees of importance from ATA’s perspective that should be addressed and resolved before ATA can fully support the bill. Among others, those issues include placement of the exemption under the “referral agency” section instead of the section for “professional services,” the question of whether “non-certified” translation and interpreting services are covered by the exemption, and the meaning of the phrase “good standing” with respect to membership in the various translator and interpreter associations listed in the bill. ATA encourages its members to continue to support the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC) in its efforts to improve the wording of SB 900, and strongly urges members in California to contact their state assemblypersons and senators and advocate for improvements to and passage of SB 900. To read the full text of SB 900, click here.
Do not underestimate the power of your vote. Politicians depend on you to stay in office. Nothing can equal the pressure individual translators and interpreters can bring to bear on their elected officials.
Since California’s Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) went into effect January 1, an increasing number of freelance translators and interpreters report that they are struggling to stay in business. Several other states are considering similar legislation. In September, ATA joined forces with other translator and interpreter organizations to request an exemption from AB 5 for translators and interpreters.1 The Association is now actively supporting the Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California2 to continue advocating for the exemption. ATA also issued a statement in response to California Senate Bill 875, which proposes including translators and interpreters in the list of professional services that are exempt from the ABC Test requirement in AB 5.3 What can you do? Do not underestimate the power of your vote. Politicians depend on you to stay in office. Nothing can equal the pressure individual translators and interpreters can bring to bear on their elected officials. Get involved in standing up for our profession! Start below with this how-to advocacy handout, a step-by-step action plan showing you how to present your case to state lawmakers. The information includes how to find your representatives and sample talking points to use in letters or conversations with legislators. Get out there! Remember, you have the power. Use it!
Ted R. Wozniak President, American Translators Association
What Can I Do about Mandatory Employee Classification Legislation in My State?
Now is the time to contact your state legislators and demand an exemption for interpreters and translators. Constituent-driven advocacy is how ordinary citizens hold lawmakers accountable to their constituents. Your active involvement with the lawmakers who work for you is necessary to protect your freedom to work as an independent contractor. By taking informed, strategic action in your district and state capital, you can make the policy process yield the results you need to protect the integrity of our professions, the survival of our operations, and the communities we serve.
What Steps Should I Take?
Communicate with and visit your lawmakers by following the steps below.
- Look up the title/designation of the mandatory employee classification legislation in your state. See the section on “Finding Existing or Proposed Legislation on Worker Classification” on page 8 for information on how and where to find this information.
- Look up your state lawmakers and their local district offices here: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator.
- Enter your address in the search bar, and your elected representative to the lower and upper chambers of your state legislature will be displayed. Open each link in a new window/tab to view and copy the contact information for your state representative, assemblyperson, delegate, or senator. Make a note of their email address, phone number, and the location of their local office.
- Your representative and senator need to hear from you. They and their staff can do their job best when they understand what affects you most.
- Call and arrange a meeting with your lawmakers. Fridays are often the best days because lawmakers are typically in their local district offices.
- Depending on your representative’s schedule, you may not meet them personally but with a legislative aide instead. If so, treat them just as you would your representative. These aides are often the “gatekeepers” and have a lot of influence on their bosses. If an in-person meeting is not possible/practical, send them an email expressing your concerns and asking them to take specific actions.
- Before you go, hone your three-part message:
- Tell your story about who you are and how your profession serves the community. Be prepared to explain how the translation and interpreting industry and professions work, how many agencies you work for during a year, and why the independent contractor/agency model works best for you and for agencies and end clients. Tell them if you’ve received notifications from agencies informing you that they will no longer work with you (or only if you incorporate).
- Explain how and why you are or will be harmed without an explicit exemption from the scope of the law or proposed bill, how it threatens upheaval of your livelihood and those you serve, and why its implementation and enforcement would disrupt and damage your operations and language services occupations in your state. Discuss the loss of business and other economic impacts of mandatory employee classification, such as loss of a Simplified Employment Pension-IRA retirement option or previously fully deductible business deductions that would now be limited as an employee’s “unreimbursed business expenses.”
- Ask your lawmakers what they will do to address this need immediately.
- Finally, report back to ATA about your experience. Please send an email summarizing your meeting and the reaction of your representatives to Advocacy@atanet.org.
Thank you for taking action to protect our professions and our livelihoods.
Finding Existing or Proposed Legislation on Worker Classification
A Department of Labor list of 2019 classification schemes used to determine unemployment insurance in each state has been posted on ATA’s website. (See the link for “Determination Employer-Employee Relationship” at the end of this article.)4 The situation is changing rapidly as legislatures are moving quickly to follow California’s lead. The information in this Department of Labor document may already be out of date, or there may be legislative proposals to change the scheme. Use the tips below to determine the state of affairs in your state.
- Try using Google. Search for “mandatory employee classification” plus your state.
- Use www.WorkerClassification.com. Click on State Resources, then your state, to see existing and/or proposed legislation and news on worker classification. Note that different legislation and classification tests may apply for different purposes (e.g., unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation). California AB 5 and similar legislation mandates uniform application of the ABC Test for most purposes.
- Use www.Congress.gov to find the website for your state legislature. Then use the search function to browse for pending legislation with keywords such as “worker classification,” “independent contractors,” or “ABC Test.”
Sample Talking Points for Conversations or Letters to Legislators (May Be Adapted into a Call Script)
- Vulnerable populations will suffer the most from an ABC Test without a language industry exemption. With at least 500 languages spoken in the U.S., the potential impact to vulnerable populations would be catastrophic. Should there be a significant reduction in the availability of language services, in particular on the interpreting side, and if companies are forced into the employee model, they will be much less likely to contract people to work in rare languages, since the need for them is much more infrequent than the more common languages. Immigrants and refugees would have more difficulty in receiving services at hospitals, schools, or in legal settings. Rising costs will put seemingly unrelated sectors at risk of violating federal law.As you may know, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating based on national origin by, among other things, failing to provide meaningful access to individuals who are limited English proficient (LEP). This is serious considering that countless industries, including health care, law enforcement, and finance, which receive federal dollars, rely on language companies to comply with language access laws and facilitate best practices. By dismantling the language industry’s independent contractor model, an ABC Test will have unintended consequences for seemingly unrelated industries as they scramble to fill the void.
- Without a language exemption, an ABC Test is unfair to businesses and workers. Given all of the costs and administrative requirements associated with employees, an ABC Test places our industry at a competitive disadvantage. If a worker is classified as an employee, the employer suddenly bears the responsibility of 1) paying Social Security and payroll taxes, 2) unemployment insurance taxes and state employment taxes, 3) providing workers’ compensation insurance, and 4) navigating state and federal statutes governing the wages, hours, and working conditions of employees. Translators and interpreters themselves are educated, highly experienced, highly trained, and often certified individuals performing highly specialized and professional services, who average $40/hour in the private marketplace.
Making a Difference through a United Front
I strongly encourage our members to support the efforts for an exemption and to contact their state representatives and senators. Just as the passage of AB 5 in California is serving as a model for other states, gaining an exemption in California will also serve as a model and make it easier for professional translators and interpreters to be exempt from being classified as “gig economy” workers in other states. We can only protect our profession by showing a united front and through grassroots efforts to educate our state legislators.
- Statement of Position Regarding California Assembly Bill 5 and Request for Exemption, http://bit.ly/ATA-AB5-statement.
- Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California, http://coalitionptic.org.
- ATA Statement on California SB 875 (Exemption to AB 5 for Translators and Interpreters), http://bit.ly/ATA-SB875-statement.
- “Determination Employer-Employee Relationship,” http://bit.ly/employer-employee-relationship.