How To Deal With Inflation Fallout In Language Services

Currently, inflation is at its highest level in 40 years and everyone is feeling the squeeze. Wages rose sharply in most sectors last year as the economy rebounded from early pandemic waves, but overall inflation has left workers with 2.7% less buying power than pre-pandemic.

However, wages for language interpreters have remained stagnant, so inflation is hitting them even harder. As a result, some interpreters are dropping out of the field, shifting jobs, or even going on strike.

How can you adapt to these conditions, pay fair wages, and maintain the vital language services you need? Let’s review what is happening and why, then move on to strategies.

Interpreter Strikes Hit Hard, Especially in Courts

Beginning in late 2021, interpreters in court systems in Europe, Canada, and the United States began demanding higher wages and (in some cases) backing up those demands with strikes. Most of these strikes targeted court systems, including all courts in The Netherlands, Ontario, and Colorado. In California, a strike in the courts of Santa Clara County soon spread to the entire state.

Strikes against court systems are occurring for two reasons. First, court interpreting is specialized and these interpreters are highly skilled, but have usually not received an increase in compensation for several years, or even more than a decade. Second, every defendant or litigant in these systems has a right to interpreting so that they can fully understand what is going on. Without an interpreter, even the most basic hearing would violate the law. Without them, the courts grind to a halt.

How To Meet Interpreter Needs, and Yours

Every labor situation is unique, but to keep interpreters (and therefore, your operations that depend on them) working, we recommend you explore these options:

Consider your competition, and factors other than money — Interpreters working onsite for you may be able to pursue more lucrative (and more flexible) work arrangements with companies that specialize in on-demand telephone and video interpreting. Some might even look outside the field entirely. “They say, ‘I can go drive for Uber and make more money,’” one Colorado court interpreter said of his colleagues in an interview with the Denver Post.

The issues go beyond paychecks. Interpreters have cited indifference to pandemic dangers, or indifference to their unemployment situation when proper attention to Covid safety shut down courts and other services.

The bottom line: Every team member needs to be properly compensated and know they are properly valued. If you don’t take action to ensure it, they will look for it elsewhere.

Be proactive and be the first to reach out — It may seem that if you contact a language agency or interpreter to discuss higher compensation, you are surrendering. But you’re actually being proactive and getting ahead of a big potential problem. If you ran a factory and needed a certain raw material to stay open, what would you do if it was trending toward shortage? You would reach out to providers and make sure that you had secured what you needed. The same applies to skilled labor, and if you are seen taking the first step, you will be rewarded with loyalty. If your interpreters work through an agency, reach out to the management of that firm to discuss how you can keep your partnership moving forward smoothly.

Examine all policies — Covid is still a danger, so ensure every interpreter is safe on the job and (if possible) has a video interpreting option, especially for short hearings. Review your travel compensation policies and any other aspect of interpreter relations that you may be able to improve. Some changes may cost nothing, but send a clear message of respect.

If you are a government entity, begin planning for high rates NOW — When Colorado’s court interpreters asked for increased compensation this April, they were told by a government official they would be kept “in the loop as we start planning for FY24.” Because government budgets can only be changed with great difficulty, it’s important to make sure you are addressing any interpreters’ concerns before things are set in stone for the next fiscal year.

How To Deal With Inflation Fallout In Language Services

Currently, inflation is at its highest level in 40 years and everyone is feeling the squeeze. Wages rose sharply in most sectors last year as the economy rebounded from early pandemic waves, but overall inflation has left workers with 2.7% less buying power than pre-pandemic.

However, wages for language interpreters have remained stagnant, so inflation is hitting them even harder. As a result, some interpreters are dropping out of the field, shifting jobs, or even going on strike.

How can you adapt to these conditions, pay fair wages, and maintain the vital language services you need? Let’s review what is happening and why, then move on to strategies.

Interpreter Strikes Hit Hard, Especially in Courts

Beginning in late 2021, interpreters in court systems in Europe, Canada, and the United States began demanding higher wages and (in some cases) backing up those demands with strikes. Most of these strikes targeted court systems, including all courts in The Netherlands, Ontario, and Colorado. In California, a strike in the courts of Santa Clara County soon spread to the entire state.

Strikes against court systems are occurring for two reasons. First, court interpreting is specialized and these interpreters are highly skilled, but have usually not received an increase in compensation for several years, or even more than a decade. Second, every defendant or litigant in these systems has a right to interpreting so that they can fully understand what is going on. Without an interpreter, even the most basic hearing would violate the law. Without them, the courts grind to a halt.

How To Meet Interpreter Needs, and Yours

Every labor situation is unique, but to keep interpreters (and therefore, your operations that depend on them) working, we recommend you explore these options:

Consider your competition, and factors other than money — Interpreters working onsite for you may be able to pursue more lucrative (and more flexible) work arrangements with companies that specialize in on-demand telephone and video interpreting. Some might even look outside the field entirely. “They say, ‘I can go drive for Uber and make more money,’” one Colorado court interpreter said of his colleagues in an interview with the Denver Post.

The issues go beyond paychecks. Interpreters have cited indifference to pandemic dangers, or indifference to their unemployment situation when proper attention to Covid safety shut down courts and other services.

The bottom line: Every team member needs to be properly compensated and know they are properly valued. If you don’t take action to ensure it, they will look for it elsewhere.

Be proactive and be the first to reach out — It may seem that if you contact a language agency or interpreter to discuss higher compensation, you are surrendering. But you’re actually being proactive and getting ahead of a big potential problem. If you ran a factory and needed a certain raw material to stay open, what would you do if it was trending toward shortage? You would reach out to providers and make sure that you had secured what you needed. The same applies to skilled labor, and if you are seen taking the first step, you will be rewarded with loyalty. If your interpreters work through an agency, reach out to the management of that firm to discuss how you can keep your partnership moving forward smoothly.

Examine all policies — Covid is still a danger, so ensure every interpreter is safe on the job and (if possible) has a video interpreting option, especially for short hearings. Review your travel compensation policies and any other aspect of interpreter relations that you may be able to improve. Some changes may cost nothing, but send a clear message of respect.

If you are a government entity, begin planning for high rates NOW — When Colorado’s court interpreters asked for increased compensation this April, they were told by a government official they would be kept “in the loop as we start planning for FY24.” Because government budgets can only be changed with great difficulty, it’s important to make sure you are addressing any interpreters’ concerns before things are set in stone for the next fiscal year.