Johanna Valle Sobalvarro for IGA unit Vice Chair 

Thank you for taking the time to consider me for this opportunity to serve our Guild. As an experienced interpreter, an immigrant, mother and life-long advocate for oppressed peoples, I’m uniquely qualified for this role. In my career, I’ve worked as an independent interpreter since 2011 as well as having a background in business, banking, and commercial branding. Throughout my professional life, I have worked as a bilingual person in various industries such as telecommunications, banking, and sales.

Knowing the challenges first hand

In addition to my professional experience, I feel that it is my personal story that shows why this positions is important to me and why I will be such a powerful advocate for our union. As a political refugee of the Nicaraguan civil war, I remember the frustration and disempowerment I felt when my family and I first arrived in the U.S. Trying to understand this new country and new system of life was very scary, and for one reason or another, the people around us didn’t help much. That memory stays with me to this day and helps drive my work and advocacy for the immigrant community. I started working as a volunteer interpreter with several pro-immigrant organizations in the Bay Area in 2011 and have direct and personal experience in advocating for such vulnerable individuals.

Understanding our Challenges

In my journey towards becoming a professional interpreter, I’ve seen a lot of abuse and systematic racism against people who speak limited English. It is critical that we as a union clearly identify the injustices occurring, call out the bad actors who exploit workers and harm clients, and formulate ways to transform working conditions for our members.There are the dishonest agencies who, in order to make as much money as they can, carelessly send untrained persons to interpret for people in very vulnerable situations.  I myself have personally dealt with exploitative language agencies whose only interest is keeping their own pockets full by offering interpreters extremely low rates, terrible working conditions, and no job security. After meeting Angie Birchfield and hearing her talk about how important it is for independent court-certified interpreters to unite to better our situation, I became driven to spread this message among independent certified medical interpreters and community interpreters. Compared to court certified interpreters, medical and community interpreters are underpaid because our industry is underregulated. This affects our ability to earn a decent living wage and have job security, which leaves us vulnerable to the dishonest agencies who continue exploiting us. We are always competing for jobs with non-certified interpreters because unscrupulous agencies would rather hire an untrained, uncertified bilingual person in order to make the maximum profit. This comes at the expense of the client with limited English, who ends up having to rely on a person without the qualifications to help them; poor interpreting can put the outcome of their medical treatment or legal case at risk.

Experience in Organizing

Building upon my broader experience in this industry, I’ve been actively involved in organizing interpreters across the state. Within the last 22 months, I’ve helped raise awareness about the importance of educating ourselves on how to negotiate our professional rates. I’ve instructed interpreters on how to not allow agencies to continue taking advantage of us by conditioning us to take what they pay under the threat that they won’t hire us or else.

I’ve also been helping IGA as acting secretary by organizing meetings in Northern California, promoting membership, educating new interpreters on contract and rate negotiations, and building unity among colleagues.

Lastly, in October 2017, I was appointed as a non-judiciary member of the California Commission on Access to Justice, representing the California Labor Federation. My focus in this role has been to raise awareness and advocate for increased funding for language access from within the funds awarded to legal aid agencies. In this job I am is focused in pushing to require that a specific percentage of the funds the commission distributes among to legal aid agencies be allocated to have a set amount to guarantee adequate language access for people in need.

A Plan for Action

Beyond just advocacy, there are specific, targeted actions we can take to better our member’s lives and careers. My goal as unit Co-chair is to push for the creation of a hiring hall through IGA with the support of the Communication Workers of America, our parent union. I believe this will help out all of our existing and future members to have access to direct hire jobs. A hiring hall will also give us the backing and credibility we need to approach local, state, and federal agencies as well as private entities, so they could directly hire certified interpreters at a fair rate. This will also help them cut costs by cutting out the middlemen agencies who charge high rates for our hard work—most of which they pocket just for making a call. As guild member interpreters, we will ensure our members are trained, certified, and up to date with continuing education requirements.

I would also like to start a mentorship program to help out newly graduated interpreting students who are not yet certified. This program would give them access to a mentor who can offer shadowing training to these new colleagues and answer questions about the industry.

Please give me the opportunity and the honor to further serve this organization and vote for me.

United we stand, divided we beg!