Court Interpreter details making ends meet without a raise in more than 5 years

I am a single mother of a four-year-old daughter and it is a stretch for me to support both of us. The lack of a raise during a time of steep inflation has caused tangible results in my life. I have had to make decisions that I wish I didn’t have to make.

Katy Van Sant and her daughter Lyla in their home in Oakland. Van Sant is advocating for a raise for court interpreters. Photo by David Bacon.
Katy Van Sant and her daughter Lyla in their home in Oakland. Van Sant is advocating for a raise for court interpreters.
Photo by David Bacon.

For one, I have chosen to keep my daughter in day care until kindergarten because preschool is too expensive. Instead I pay $750 a month for a family-run day care in a dangerous neighborhood. A daycare in a safer neighborhood or a preschool would cost me twice as much but the $1,500 a month would be nearly half my take home pay.

I drive a ’97 Toyota Corolla with more than 200K miles on it, but I cannot afford to get a more reliable, safer car.

For the last six years, I have not gone on a vacation that doesn’t involve staying at a relative’s home. I don’t have a housecleaner, don’t belong to a gym and have no college savings plan for my daughter.

Despite the fact that I only pay $1,000 a month for housing because I rent from my parents, I still have to moonlight to make ends meet. I do transcription and translation work in the evenings and on weekends. If I did not have that work I would have serious problems paying my bills.

California court interpreters have not received a wage increase in more than five years. Meanwhile our healthcare costs have risen steeply and inflation has gone up 11% from 2007 to 2013. The California Federation of Interpreters proposed increasing Region 2 and 3 interpreters’ wages based on years of service but courts continue rejecting the raise.

According to a survey CFI did recently, 64 percent of the interpreters in Region 2 find it necessary to take on extra work to make ends meet. Seventy-five percent have had their healthcare costs go up and 50 percent have had their pension contributions go up in the last five years.

Many of my colleagues report struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, living month-to-month, having to resort to financial support from family members, making sacrifices in areas like dentistry, school choices and the neighborhoods where they live.

In my case, health insurance has gone from 0 to $2,235 per year. Combining this with the lack of a raise means that, in effect, I have gotten a 14 percent wage reduction over that last 5 years. The increases we are proposing in bargaining will not even bring me back to where I was in 2007 as far as my buying power.KatyLila2

This is a job that requires years of study as well as an innate skill. I put in many, many years of study to become a certified interpreter. I did not grow up bilingual.  I took four years of Spanish in high school, followed by four years in college to earn a degree in Spanish literature. I studied one year abroad in Spain, lived in Mexico for two years after that and studied interpreting for two years at San Francisco State University and on own.  That’s a total of 12 years of study to become an interpreter. And I’m not a slow learner. I have surveyed my colleagues and all have put in a similar amount of time and study in order to be able to meet the standards needed for court interpreting.

A profession that demands the years of study and level of skill that interpreting requires, and that is vital for the functioning of the courts, deserves a salary capable of supporting a family.


Katy Van Sant is a certified court interpreter in the Superior Court of Alameda County and a member of the CFI Region 2 bargaining committee. Her first person account first appeared on the California Federation of Interpreters website


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Pacific Media Workers Guild

We are the Pacific Media Workers Guild, Local 39521 of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America. We represent more than 1,200 journalists and other media workers, interpreters, translators, union staffs and freelancers.