Frequently Asked Questions
Updated On: Jul 17, 2020

1. What is collective bargaining?

2. What is the interpreters’ scope of bargaining?

3. What happens if our bargaining team can't reach an agreement with the state? 

4. What happens if the state or the coordinating entity makes unilateral changes to our union contract?

5. What are the duties and responsibilities of our bargaining team?

6. How did freelance interpreters in Washington State gain the right to collectively bargain? 

1. 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.

2. What is the interpreters’ scope of bargaining?

RCW 41.56.510(2)(c)  establishes our mandatory subjects for collective bargaining.

Under the 2010 bill ESSB 6726, interpreters’ mandatory subjects were very limited:

(i) economic compensation, such as the manner and rate of payments;

(ii) professional development and training;

(iii) labor-management committees; and

(iv) grievance procedures.

In 2020, interpreters’ succeeded in expanding their scope of bargaining through a new bill HB 2691 (new language underlined):

(i) Economic compensation, such as the manner and rate of payments, including tiered payments;

(ii) professional development and training;

(iii) labor-management committees;

(iv) grievance procedures;

(v) health and welfare benefits; and

(vi) other economic matters.

3. What happens if our 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. 

4. What happens if the state or the coordinating entity makes unilateral changes to our union contract?

Once there is a legally 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. 

5. What are the duties and responsibilities of our bargaining team?

Only WFSE members in good standing in the appropriate bargaining units will be eligible to nominate, vote in the election of, or serve as a bargaining team member.  A member may not nominate, vote for, or be elected to serve as a bargaining team member for a contract under which they are not covered.

Careful and serious consideration should be given to these responsibilities before any member considers serving on the bargaining team. Bargaining team members should have a working knowledge of their contract.

Responsibilities of the bargaining team:  

  • Develop proposals and negotiate with employer;
  • make decisions about proposals in order to obtain the best possible language;
  • refer specific issues to other venues as appropriate; and,
  • reach and recommend ratification or rejection of the final tentative agreement.

Responsibilities of individual bargaining team members: 

  • Adhere to all bargaining team rules of conduct as developed by the team; 
  • be accountable, committed, open-minded, realistic, and highly engaged; 
  • partner with WFSE staff to communicate and meet with assigned groups of union members; 
  • be willing to share contact information with members you are elected to represent; 
  • be willing and committed to the possibility of late nights and travel as needed (often in two-day blocks); and,
  • follow WFSE expense policy, applicable travel request requirements, and time loss policy.  

Voting by the bargaining teams during negotiations will be one (1) vote for each bargaining team member present.

The four (4) WFSE officers will be automatic members of their respective bargaining team, with an equal voice and vote.  The WFSE officers may attend bargaining sessions of any other bargaining team, as the President deems necessary.

The WFSE President may remove any bargaining team member who, after careful investigation, is determined to have violated the rules of conduct, the responsibilities of their role as described in this document, or the AFSCME International Constitution (see Article X, Section 2), or who has acted inappropriately in their role.  Any bargaining team member removed from their position may appeal the decision of the WFSE President to the WFSE Executive Committee plus one bargaining team member chosen by the appellant’s bargaining team.

The WFSE President may appoint bargaining team members to fill vacant seats that occur prior the start of negotiations. 


Supplemental team members for groups with interest arbitration will be appointed by the WFSE President and will include team members from the main table as appropriate. All appointed supplemental bargaining team members for groups with interest arbitration will have the same expectations as those elected to their respective bargaining team and should have knowledge and expertise of the matters over which they are appointed to bargain. 


Provided the technology is available and in place by June 1, 2019, contract proposals may be submitted at any time by completing a proposal form on the WFSE website. Should the technology not be available on the WFSE website by June 1, 2019, an e-mail “in-box” for contract proposals will be made available in the interim. Proposals will be pulled from the electronic in-box on December 31 of every odd year for the upcoming round of negotiations.  Exceptions to rule regarding proposals submitted after December 31 or proposals submitted by WFSE staff are subject to approval by the WFSE Executive Director. All proposals are subject to the deadlines outlined in this document. 

Contract proposal collection pertaining to the American Behavioral Health Systems, Renton Technical College, TESC SSSSU, TCC Student Support Services, and the Thurston Conservation District contracts will occur at the appropriate time in their respective negotiating cycles. Each contract proposal will be assigned a tracking number so that it can be followed through the negotiating process and will not be provided to the Employer.

WFSE staff will assess contract proposals for legality and consolidate duplicate proposals.  The resulting proposals will then be passed on to the appropriate bargaining team(s) for debate, possible revision, and a vote to support, reject, and/or refer. Proposals referred for contract enforcement, legislative action, or as a UMCC issue will be routed to the appropriate staff for action not later than February 28 of the bargaining year. 


Informing and involving bargaining unit members during the bargaining process is critical to winning support for a strong contract and ratification of a final agreement.

A communication strategy will be developed involving frequent dissemination of information from each bargaining team to a wide net of leaders including stewards, activists, local officers and board members, WFSE executive board members and WFSE committee members.  When necessary, designated staff may distribute a press release to the mainstream media.

All WFSE Offices will be hubs for distribution of information materials and tools for job actions.

At the conclusion of negotiations, contract negotiations staff will communicate the disposition of all proposals to the member submitting the proposal upon their request. 

At the conclusion of bargaining, a debriefing will occur with all bargaining team members to discuss the process. A copy of this document will remain available through the close of the debriefing for members to propose amendments to be submitted to the CBC for consideration. 

6. How did freelance interpreters in Washington State gain the right to collectively bargain? 

In 2010, Washington State interpreters won the right to unionize by passing legislation ESSB 6726. 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. I

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. 

What is the history of Collective Bargaining in the US?

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 non-mandatory 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.  

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