Frequently Asked Questions About our Union
Updated On: Jan 28, 2019

Read frequently asked questions about our bargaining here.

General frequently asked questions*:

*Last updated winter 2014.  Check our news page for recent updates!

What is Interpreters United? 

Interpreters United/WFSE Local 1671 is the labor union for spoken language nterpreters working as independent contractors for the State of Washington. The Washington Federation of State Employees is also known as Council 28 of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

WFSE is the largest public employees labor union in Washington State grouping 52 locals with nearly 40,000 members.

AFSCME is the nationwide labor union grouping 58 councils with about 1.6 million members working in the public sector.

AFL-CIO is the natiowide umbrella federation grouping 56 labor unions with about 12.5 million members.

Wahshington state's DSHS certified/authorized interpreters came together in the fall of 2009 due to frustrations with the broker system, unfair treatment and substandard pay.  It began with a few people and now a large majority of Interpreters are supporting Interpreters United with hopes of achieving respect and professional pay. Interpreters want to 

  • improve working conditions
  • stop delayed payments
  • stop wasting state money on middlemen
  • reduce administrative expense

Interpreters United elected Bargaining Team negotiated the first ever union contract between freelance interpreters and a governmental agency. On July 1, 2011  the Collective Bargaining Agreement went into effect and for the first time freelance interpreters HAD WORK RIGHTS!

Our union contract covers all interpreters who work as independent contractors providing interpreting services at DSHS or Medicaid enrollee appointments.

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What are the new requirements for background checks?

Before we had a union contract, intepreters had to pay for each language agency to get a background check on the interpreter every year. 

Article 5.8 of our current union contract says, "Background Checks Before providing interpreter services under this Agreement and annually thereafter, the interpreter will submit to a criminal history background check conducted by the coordinating entity. The interpreter shall not pay more than the actual costs to conduct the background check. The coordinating entity will provide an electronic copy of the background check to the interpreter no more than seven (7) business days prior to the expiration of the background check."

If you need to request a background check to send to a language company, you can do so online here:

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 How have interpreters improved our profession through Interpreters United?

While organizing our union, Interpreters United/WFSE, interpreters also helped save the medical interpreter services program when it faced elimination by the Governor! 

In the Spring of 2010 Interpreters United/WFSE helped save $16 million in state and federal funding for the medicaid interpreter program when it faced elimination in the Governor’s budget. 

In the Spring of 2011 Interpreters United/WFSE again helped save the medical interpreter program when it faced elimination in March and then again in June.   Like many other state funded social service programs, however, the funding level was reduced by 24% for medical appointments.  Thanks to interpreters' constant pressure on lawmakers, 243,000 DSHS and Medicaid clients continue to have interpreters at appointments after July 1, 2013!  United we can win! 

Procurement Reform

The 2011-2013 budget bill also mandated DSHS to change the broker system by no later than January 2012. The required reform would streamline the delivery of services, reduce administrative costs, keep jobs in WA and pave the way to finally restoring fairness to interpreters. 
Starting July 2011, even though the wasteful broker model for delivering medical and social interpreter services continued, interpreters had a union contract that set out many of their working conditions, including economic compensation.
Also in July 2011, and in anticipation of the Affordable Care Act, all Medicaid services were transferred out of DSHS into HCA, the Health Care Authority.
In March 2012, HCA issued the first ever competitive bidding for Medicaid interpreter services. The RFP (Request for Proposal) was won by CTS Language Link, a language company based in Vancourver, WA.
In September 2012, the broker system ceased to exist and the new coordinating entity business model came to life. CTS, the statewide vendor, became a SaaS company leasing its web portal to the state. This is the first time that interpreters' wages are completely divorced from the language company's earnings. 
The language company negotiates a contract with the state for leasing their scheduling, invoicing and payment services. They agree to a flat fee not to exceed 15% of the overall cost of the entire program. 
Freelance interpreters collectively negotiate separetly with the state their hourly rates and other working conditions.
The state then issues two payments to the statewide vendor:
1) a flat fee to cover the administrative cost 
2) interpreters' wages to be distributed by the vendor 

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How can forming a Union help?

Before we had a union contract, the State, brokers and language agencies decided how much to pay interpreters, who can get appointments, and what the rules are at work. Many of the rules were set by DSHS and brokers behind closed doors.  The State, brokers, and agencies could change the rules, and our pay, whenever they wished to do so.  Through our union, Interpreters are able to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement directly with the state that sets minimum standards, including wages. 

Unlike “contracts” that Interpreters sign with agencies, a collective bargaining agreement contract can’t change without Interpreters first agreeing to those changes through the bargaining process.

Regardless of how the State contracts for our services, the minimum standards set in our collective bargaining agreement apply to all DSHS and Medicaid enrollee appointments.   Together, we can ensure that our interests and our clients’ interests are heard.

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How much was the state paying to brokers and agencies?

Before our movement agitated for reform, the State paid $59 for the average DSHS or Medicaid enrollee appointment of 1.3 hours.  DSHS paid this to the brokers who then paid the agencies, who then paid interpreters.  Agencies did not take a flat fee, but rather skimmed off the interpreter hourly pay, and in some egregious cases even withheld pay for themselves from interpreters' mileage reimbursements.   Now that we have exposed the wasteful system, the State has decided to pay a flat fee not to exceed 15% for adminstrative costs. Our union contract also ensures that all pay for interpreters and any reimbursements must go directly to the interpreter. 

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What process did we follow to become a union?  What do we we do to get a collective bargaining agreement (contract)?

First, we rallied and passed the Interpreter bill in April 2010 ESSB 6726 giving DSHS Interpreters the right to form a union.  Then, we collected DSHS Interpreter-signed union cards to show an interest in forming a union and requested a union election with the state body responsible for conducting union elections, the Public Employers Relations Commission (PERC).  An overhwhelming majority - 95%! - voted YES!  Interpreters won our union election and were certified in October 2010.

In December 2010 Interpreters elected a bargaining team to negotiate a contract with the state.  Based on input from interpreter members, and with the help of  WFSE/ AFSCME Council 28 professional negotiators and lawyers, our elected bargaining team negotiated a union contract with the State.  The union contract is between DSHS Interpreters and the State of Washington. Interpreters voted in June 2011 to accept the union contract with improvements in rules, pay and conditions. This first union contract went from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2013.

***Right now the State does not agree that interpreters seeing DSHS, Medicaid, SCHIP patients at public hospitals OR interpreters working in legal settings who are paid by DSHS (currently only happens in King & Snohomish counties) are included in our Union.  In November 2011 the State Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) issued a ruling that these interpreters are included in the language access provider bargaining unit & so should be covered by a union contract.  The State appealed this decision in King County Superior Court and lost.  The State then filed in the Court of Appeals Division 1. A decision is still expected.   

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What about union membership dues?

Only once interpreters voted to approve (ratified) a union contract with improvements could we sign up to become union members.  Only members can fully participate in our Union, including voting on contract proposals and taking bargaining surveys. 

Union dues are 1.5% of your gross earnings (mileage is not an earning) and are deducted from interpreters' checks by CTS and remitted to WFSE.

There are NO initation fees for Interpreters United/WFSE. 

We encourage you to become a Union member and participate actively in Local 1671.  Only dues-paying members can participate in the democratic governance of our Union, including voting in Union elections, attending Union meetings, voting on Union priorities and strategies and ratifying new contracts.  Union membership also entitles you to full access to member-only benefits which include access to scholarships, discounts on services and products such as travel and legal services, as well as mortgage and credit programs, etc.  Increased Union membership gives us increased power in bargaining for better pay and working conditions and in winning grievances by showing the State that interpreters support and participate in the Union.  Moreover, membership provides added financial strength by contributing dues to important bases of Union power such as political action—which is especially important for Unions representing public service workers such as ours.

*NOTE: Before our Union advocated for system reform and raised interpreter hourly rates, many interpreters paid more PER APPOINTMENT to brokers and agencies than we now pay to the union in an entire month!

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Can I participate in the Union if I am not a U.S. citizen?

Yes! If you have provided interpreter services for Medicaid, SCHIP or DSHS client (medical or social service) since Jan 1 2009 you are eligible to join our Union.  All interpreters have the same right to vote for and join a Union, regardless of their citizenship or VISA status. All workers are protected by Federal Labor law-regardless of country of origin or citizenship status.

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If I sign a card and support the union movement, will my agency know?

Only if you tell them.  The cards are confidential. 

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What can I do if I've been denied payment for interpreter work I've done in the past?

Interpreters have faced years of disrespect and mistreatment. Without the protection of a union contract, language companies and brokers took advantage and mistreated many interpreters. In some cases interpreters have been unfairly accused and denied appointments and some have many unpaid vouchers for work performed.

As a union we have succesfully fought for fair treatment of interpreters! 

Through our union contract's grievance process interpreters have helped medical providers better understand how to work with interpreters, including how to properly document our time, and protected our pay when some language agencies tried to charge 'shipping and handling' fees for paychecks for example.

Even when an issue is not addressed by our current union contract, through our Union we have educated Health Care Authority and DSHS on the issue and succesfully worked together to improve state policies.  For example, Health Care Authority now requires language agencies to have a more streamlined, transparent, and fair complaint process for dealing with complaints from medical providers - including the right for interpreters to know about the complaint within 3 business days!  (Before our Union's advocacy, interpreters often never even knew a complaint had been made!)

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