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L&I interpreters finally win union with WFSE

The following is from the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), AFSCME Council 28:

OLYMPIA (Sept. 18, 2023) — After years of organizing, passage of new legislation, and a bizarre disinformation campaign by a billionaire-funded, anti-worker think tank, spoken language interpreters who take appointments from the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) have won. They voted to unionize and join the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE), AFSCME Council 28.

Interpreters: Sign up to join your union here!

The 1,100-plus L&I interpreters join Interpreters United, WFSE Local 1671, which became the first union of freelance interpreters in the country following passage of a groundbreaking collective bargaining law in 2010.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signing the interpreter collective bargaining bill in 2010.

The expansion of Local 1671 is proof that their experiment in collective bargaining has not failed, but is expanding. In 2022, in the midst of the campaign, spoken language interpreters in Oregon organized with AFSCME to become the second freelance interpreters union in the country.

Interpreters who take appointments from state agencies perform critical work.

They ensure that all Washingtonians, regardless of the language they speak, can access public services. L&I interpreters serve as this lifeline for injured workers in Washington.

As independent contractors, they don’t enjoy most of the employee protections that have been established by 100 years of labor law. But in Washington, Local 1671 members have found those rights in their union, significantly improving their pay, working conditions and quality of life through their contracts and in the legislature.

Over their first 10 years, the interpreters in Local 1671 (who take appointments from DCYF, DSHS and the Health Care Authority):

  • Doubled their rate of pay
  • Won reimbursement for late appointment cancellations and no-shows
  • Won a minimum of one hour of pay regardless of the appointment’s length
  • Won protection from clawbacks when the agency accidentally overpays them

They also reformed the appointment scheduling system, winning a fair distribution of appointments and improving access to interpreters for Washington’s Limited English Proficient population.

L&I interpreters hope to bargain for similar benefits now that their union is certified.

The path to union rights for L&I interpreters wasn’t easy. From 2012 through 2018, L&I interpreters partnered with WFSE in three different organizing drives to win union rights, finally winning legislation during the 2018 legislative session.

Ever since, the anti-worker, billionaire-funded “Freedom” Foundation has tried to prevent them from joining.

They poured money into the election, even bankrolling a fake “union” to run in the election. But all that money, all the disinformation, and all the frivolous election objections and delays didn’t make a dent. Interpreters voted three times, in overwhelming numbers, to join WFSE.

To our knowledge, this is the first time the “Freedom” Foundation has gotten this involved in a union representation election. Workers and organized labor should be vigilant for similar strategies that may play out elsewhere across the country.

The “Freedom” Foundation tries to divide workers and separate them from their unions. L&I interpreters overcame the divisions that the “Freedom” Foundation tried to exploit and chose to work together for their own good, for the good of their profession and for patients — the injured workers that need competent interpreters to access workers’ comp and other services provided by the Department of Labor & Industries.

We are so excited that L&I interpreters have joined our union family and our community of organized labor!

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!