September 17, 2010

Interpreters say "YES" to WFSE/AFSCME with overwhelming 95% vote

Medical interpreters in the DSHS system today voted to make the Federation their union and vowed to win a strong contract for the more than 1,500 “language access providers” who help doctors communicate to patients for whom English is a second language.

The interpreters, organizers and supporters burst into cheers, tears and hugs when the results were announced at the Public Employment Relations Commission in Olympia.

The vote was 851 for the Federation and 47 for no representation. There were 125 challenged ballots, which would not have affected the outcome of the vote. Another 50 ballots were voided.

The interpreters won the right to form a union under the Federation-initiated ESSB 6726, which was signed into law this spring.

It’s believed this is the first time a bargaining unit exclusively for public-sector interpreters has been formed in the United States.

“There are not words to describe this day – it’s historic,” WFSE/AFSCME President Carol Dotlich told the newest union members after the vote count.

“You are the first and I’m very proud to call you brothers and sisters."

“Our union will be far richer with your activism,” said Megan Parke, the union’s organizing director.

The interpreters say they’re ready to build on the hard work that won them a union to next win a strong – and groundbreaking -- contract.

They will also continue the campaign to reform the archaic system of brokers and agencies – the middlemen in the system who sap 42 percent of state and federal dollars before they ever reach the frontline workers actually doing the interpreting work.

“I hope this is the beginning for much fairer treatment and consideration for what interpreters do,” said Diana Noman, a Seattle-based interpreter specializing in Russian and Arabic.

“This is the birth of a new experience for interpreters…,” said Edmundo Cavazos, a Tacoma interpreter specializing in Spanish.

“No more will we be subjected to being exploited and treated in the manner we are."

“I’m excited because there’s a lot to be done – I think it’s the beginning of big things to come,” said Pon Hochingnavong of Seattle, who specializes in Laotian and Thai.

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