Get answers to common questions about bargaining.
What were the working conditions like for interpreters before we had a union and a union contract?
Before we had a union contract, the State, brokers and language agencies decided how much to pay interpreters (average was ~$21 / hr) and what the rules were on the job. Many of the rules were set behind closed doors. The State, brokers, and agencies could change the rules and our pay whenever they wished to do so. Through our union, we 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. Together, we can ensure that our interests and our clients’ interests are heard.
What's the timeline for bargaining our union contract?
Like state employees, Medical and Social Service interpreters bargain a two year union contract with the State. Our first union contract started July 1, 2011 and ran through June 30, 2013. Negotiations begin in spring of every other even year (2014, 2016, etc.). We must submit our proposed next union contract to the State Legislature by October of that year, so the Legislature can vote on whether or not to approve the agreement during their following legislative session beginning in January of odd years (2015, 2017, etc.). The new contract begins in July 1 of every odd year (2017, 2019, etc.).
How can I help win a great union contract?
Share your ideas about what improvements are needed in our next union contract.
Attend a union meeting to give feedback to our bargaining team and discuss important issues with your fellow interpreters.
Take our online surveys!
When you have a problem, contact us right away so we can help you stand up for your rights. Only by documenting where there are problems in the current contract can we fix the problems at the bargaining table!
Do I need to pay dues to particiapte in bargaining?
Yes. Only union members can participate in democratic union actions such as electing our interpreter bargaining team and taking bargaining surveys.
You can sign up for our Union by downloading and printing a membership card here and mailing to us at
WFSE/AFSCME Council 28
1212 Jefferson St., Suite 300
Olympia WA 98501
or faxing it to 360.352.7608. You can also sign up in person at any of our union meetings.
Union dues are 1.5%, of your gross pay earned as an interpreter at DSHS and Medicaid enrollee appointments and will be deducted automatically from your paycheck by the coordinating entity.
What will our interpreter bargaining team do?
Our bargaining team is elected to help negotiate the best possible union contract with the state for interpreters. WFSE/AFSCME Council 28 will provide professional assistance from trained negotiators. The bargaining team will develop proposals to improve working conditions for interpreters and will participate in the actual negotiations with the state.
The bargaining team approves final contract language before sending it to the full membership for a vote. The bargaining team has the power to alter, modify, change, or concede on all issues to obtain the best possible union contract for interpreters. They are your voice at the bargaining table! The bargaining team has 11 members elected from across the state.
What will happen if our interpreter bargaining team can't reach an agreement with the state?
Interest arbitration, when the law allows for it, is a mechanism that can resolve a bargaining dispute. When the employer and union negotiate to impasse on a mandatory subject of bargaining, the parties hire an impartial third party arbitrator. This arbitrator conducts a formal hearing in which the parties present their positions. The arbitrator then reviews the testimony and supporting evidence and decides on what the contract language should be by issuing an arbitration award. This differs from grievance arbitration, wherein the arbitrator interprets a term in an existing contract.
What happens when the state or the coordinating entity makes unilateral changes to our union contract?
During the time a collective bargaining agreement is in effect, the employer may not change a working condition that is a mandatory subject of bargaining, without first bargaining with the unionemployer. Once there is a legal recognized bargaining agent, the employer can't change a term or condition of employment that has a significant impact on employees, without 1) giving the union advance notice, and 2) bargaining, upon the request of the union.
Accordingly, when there is a unilateral change the union has the right to ask for a Demand To Bargain.
What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is the right to negotiate on issues important to interpreters by negotiating a contract with the State that determines many of the terms of our service. Pursuant to RCW 41.56.510(2)(c) interpreters are only allowed to negotiate for:
(i) economic compensation, such as the manner and rate of payments
(ii) professional development and training
(iii) labor-management committees
(iv) grievance procedures
Retirement benefits are not subject to collective bargaining. This is frequently referred as the SCOPE OF BARGAINING.
How did WA interpreters gain the right to collectively bargain a contract?
In 2010 Washington State interpreters won the right to unionize by passing legislation ESSB 6726.
In 1935, the US Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) (29 U.S.C.A. §§ 151 et seq.) to establish the right of workers, working for businesses involved in interstate commerce, to engage in collective bargaining and other group activities (§ 157). The NLRA also created the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency authorized to enforce the right to bargain collectively (§ 153). The NLRA has been amended several times since 1935, most notably in 1947, 1959, and 1974.
Several classes of employers fall outside the NLRA: the U.S. government and its wholly owned corporations, states and their political subdivisions, railroads, and airlines.
Several types of workers fall outside the NLRA: agricultural workers, independent contractors, and supervisory and managerial employees.
Several federal and state laws often provide protection for workers not covered under the NLRA. For example, federal government workers enjoy the right to bargain collectively under the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which is patterned largely after the NLRA and enforced by the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Railroads and airlines are generally governed by the Railway Labor Act, the predecessor to the NLRA. Plus many states have adopted statutes similar to the NLRA that protect the rights of state and local government workers to bargain collectively.
The 1967 Public Employees' Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA), Chapter 41.56 RCW, provides for collective bargaining by counties, cities, and other political subdivisions and their employees. The scope of mandatory bargaining is personnel matters, including wages, hours and working conditions, which may be peculiar to a bargaining unit of the public employer. The courts have described the scope as limited to matters of direct concern to employees. Managerial decisions that only remotely affect personnel matters, and decisions that are predominantly managerial prerogatives, are nonmandatory subjects. Employee workload and safety, including staffing levels with a direct relationship to workload and safety, are mandatory subjects. To resolve impasses over contract negotiations, the PECBA requires binding interest arbitration.
In 2010, freelance interpreters, defined in legislation as "language access providers", working at DSHS and Medicaid enrollee appointments were granted unionization rights under PECBA (RCW 41.56). Though interpreters are not state employees the Governor has been made their public employer. Individuals covered under the non-state employee agreements are business owners, independent contractors, or employees of the consumer of services and include adult family home providers, child care providers, home care individual providers and language access providers. The scope of labor negotiations is defined in RCW 41.56 and RCW 74.39A.270.
Since interpreters are not covered by NLRA they fall under the purview of the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). PERC is an independent Washington State agency responsible for resolving disputes involving most public employers and employees, and the unions that represent those employees. When public employers and unions are unable to agree on a written contract establishing the wages, hours, and working conditions of bargaining unit employees, PERC provides mediation to help the parties reach an agreement.