Language interpreters at Sonoma County Superior Court walked off the job Tuesday in protest of failed negotiations over pay and benefits they claim are rooted in discrimination.
Court officials scrambled to provide translation services and some cases were postponed by the one-day strike of the half-dozen Spanish interpreters.
It was part of a larger disagreement between state court officials and union interpreters in 15 coastal Northern California counties, whose contracts expired in September.
Although the state is offering to boost the $76,000-a-year salaries by 21 percent over three years, interpreters claim it won’t make up for past wage stagnation and does not keep pace with raises given to federal counterparts and other court workers.
At the same time, interpreters claim positions have gone unfilled despite money being allocated by state legislators.
They accused court officials of placing a low priority on their work because they are mostly women and minorities who focus on helping immigrants.
“The communities that need these services are getting short shrift in this county,” said Mary Lou Aranguren, a lead negotiator for the California Federation of Interpreters union, who stood outside the courthouse with colleagues carrying picket signs. “It’s institutional racism.”
Sonoma County court officials referred questions about the dispute to a spokeswoman for regional negotiators at San Francisco Superior Court, who released a statement from T. Michael Yuen, the court’s executive officer.
Yuen said one case requiring interpreters was postponed until Friday. He called what the court is offering “fair.”
“By not embracing this salary structure and instead striking throughout the region, the interpreters’ union is actually hurting the women, minorities and non-English speakers who seek to access their right to justice in Northern California but instead see their day in court delayed because interpreters are on the picket line rather than in court providing vital interpreting services,” Yuen said in the statement.
Cindia Martinez, assistant court executive officer in Santa Rosa, confirmed her court has a full-time staff of six interpreters who work 36 to 40 hours a week. Martinez said the court hires two additional contractors for Spanish translation and can bring in more for other languages.
Meanwhile, striking interpreters said their wages have risen at less than half the rate of other court workers since court interpreters gained employment rights 14 years ago. Because they don’t receive salary “steps,” those who have worked for decades earn the same as others who are new to the profession.
Also, interpreters claim they have suffered deeper cuts to take-home pay because of rising benefit costs