‘UNConference’ Highlights Professionalism of Language Contractors

    Views on the classification of interpreters and translators will be on offer in Huntington Beach, California.

    The Association of Language Companies (ALC) will be hosting its annual UNConference January 17-19, in Huntington Beach, California. While this gathering of the brightest minds and leaders in the language service industry always sparks meaningful conversation and idea-sharing, this year’s UNConference features a special focus on the worker classification issue, an issue that has the potential to have profound effects on the industry and on the many sectors of the economy that it serves.

    About the worker classification issue and its effects on the language service industry

    Language service companies (LSCs) traditionally utilize either an independent contractor model (75%+ of industry) or a regular employee model when engaging with professional linguists to complete specialized language service projects, like translation and interpreting. The Dynamex ruling puts standards in effect that make it very difficult to operate with an independent contractor model at all – meaning that with an employee model, LSC’s would incur the costs of providing benefits to workers that perform linguistic tasks which increases costs of services to the public and educational sector.  Furthermore, some governmental linguists could also be limited in terms of work due to their inability to work outside of the government instead of as an independent contractor.

    “Some misguided people have tried to compare linguists with commoditized ‘gig economy’ workers, like ride-share drivers or other types of temporary workers; however, it is critical to realize how incorrect that assertion would be, since translators and interpreters are highly trained professionals who have high standards and requirements to be able to adequately perform the work,” states Rick Antezana, ALC President. 

    “It is much more accurate to say that linguists should be classified as ‘knowledge economy’ workers, since the barrier for entry into performing their duties is so much higher than the ‘gig economy’ jobs.”

    “Translators and interpreters… perform work in critical and high-risk (sometimes life critical) areas, such as translating content for pharmaceutical products and medical devices or interpreting for government officials, in emergency rooms and in court.”

    On August 8, 2018, leaders from the language service industry gathered in Washington DC for the first ALC Advocacy Forum—where they met to strategize their efforts as an industry in response to new, disruptive employee classification regulations—in particular, the Dynamex ruling in California, which narrowed the definition of which workers can be classified as “independent contractors.” The event was organized by ALC in partnership with JNCL-NCLIS.

    In January, in California near the heart of these legal developments, and with the help of a panel of industry experts, the conversations, and organization efforts continue.