Officials at the National Labor Relations Board have found that immigration court interpreters should be considered employees rather than independent contractors.
The determination is a major — though preliminary — win for the Guild, which has been working to help immigration interpreters fighting for their job rights.
Lawyers for the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, got word on Thursday, March 16, that the NLRB’s national office has issued formal legal advice to regional NLRB investigators in California, upholding the employee status of interpreters working for SOS International, a company that provides language services for the U.S. immigration system nationwide.
The immigration courts are managed by the U.S. Department of Justice. SOSi holds a contract with DOJ, and deploys its nationwide pool of interpreters to handle deportation hearings and other immigration cases.
The San Francisco-based Pacific Media Workers Guild and its parent union, The NewsGuild-CWA, has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges on behalf of SOSi immigration interpreters. But the labor standards enforced by the NLRB only cover workers classified as employees.
Many employers have misclassified workers as independent contractors to dodge the requirements of regulators and tax authorities. Typically, workers who operate largely under the control of the employer are considered “employees,” while those who set their own schedules and work practices may be independent.
The determination of employee status for the SOSi workers means that NLRB officials can now consider whether the Guild’s charges have merit. If the agency decides in our favor, it can issue complaints against the employer. That could lead to back-pay and other remedies in some cases, although it will take further legal proceedings to make that happen.
Carl Hall, executive officer of Local 39521, said the NLRB decision “gets us to the starting line” in a potential organizing drive for full union rights. The immigration interpreters have been trying to work together for months, despite anti-worker practices and retaliation against union supporters by the management.
Today’s NLRB determination “is great news not just because it could mean justice for interpreters who have suffered from SOSi’s threats and retaliatory actions, but it also means that we can organize and negotiate collectively for a contract protecting all interpreters,” Hall said.
If the NLRB does issue a complaint against SOSi, union attorneys expect it could come by the end of April.
“Challenges await, but we have a chance now to achieve real bargaining rights and job protections,” Hall said.