AB5, the bill reclassifying California interpreters as employees and no longer as independent contractors, has been in effect for 6 months now. Given that the bill is detrimental to the livelihood of professional interpreters, not to mention its damaging effects to language access for minorities in California, it has been met with a lot of resistance. SB 900 was introduced to undo the damage of AB5, but that bill fell flat. A new clean-up bill called AB 1850 has now been introduced, but it still doesn’t exempt professional interpreters from AB5 (for now).

A combination of AB5 and COVID-19 has left many professional linguists in California with zero assignments, and zero income. Language industry leaders were quick to act, and Senator Jerry Hill drafted SB 900, a bill providing a set of conditions allowing freelance interpreters to continue to operate in California. However, Senator Hill quickly withdrew from the bill amid union pressure. The livelihood of freelance interpreters was again in danger and we were back to square one.

Soon after, AB 1850 was introduced. AB 1850 is an assembly clean-up bill looking to protect professional linguists in California. For now, though, the bill states that only certified translators are exempt from AB5. Certified translators represent less than 10% of all professional linguists in California. In other words, AB 1850 only covers a tiny sliver of professional linguists and omits all interpreters. The exclusion has huge negative implications for Californians with limited English proficiency, people with disabilities, and millions of Californians who depend on interpreters for reliable language access.

The sponsor of the bill, Lorena Gonzalez, incidentally the same Assemblywoman who sponsored AB5, recognized that the language of the exemption was a work in progress. Still, the road ahead is long and paved with many obstacles. As AB 1850 finds its way to the Senate, it is important for interpreters, language professionals, and language advocates to make their voices heard. Highly skilled interpreters have to be included in the bill, not only to ensure their livelihood, but to ensure language access for those who desperately need it.

If you work in California and feel passionate about this issue, find your legislators here, and email or call them to further educate them on the independent and highly skilled nature of the interpreting profession, and to urge them for an exemption for interpreters.

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