Minnesota is the latest US state to see its court interpreters strike over pay-related disagreements.
The strike began on January 8, 2024 — ironically, the day interpreters received a pay raise of 16%, bringing their hourly rate from USD 56 to USD 65. While an improvement, this is far from the USD 96.50 certified interpreters have requested to bring their earnings in line with rates from 1997, adjusted for inflation.
The strike is apparently months in the making, with court interpreters raising the issue of pay increases, specifically to address inflation, “during a public comment period on new interpreter policies” in June 2023, The Minnesota Reformer reported. Interpreters have also complained of inadequate compensation for time and mileage for assignments requiring long-distance travel.
“[C]ompensation for remote interpreting, which was originally higher due to being paid per minute, has been reduced to less than half, and travel time for in-person interpreters will no longer be eligible for reimbursement,” the American Translators Association (ATA) pointed out in a notice announcing a letter of support for Minnesota court interpreters.
“We firmly believe that compensation for these services should be congruent with the high standards of expertise required,” the ATA’s letter, issued jointly with the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT), stated.
The letter went on to “ encourage ongoing and constructive dialogue between interpreters and court administrators to address these concerns and collaboratively find mutually beneficial solutions.”
Sources for the Minnesota Reformer article estimated that at least 80 interpreters might participate in the strike “indefinitely,”
More than a week in, progress has been limited. Minnesota’s Star Tribune quoted a letter from State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba stating that the state judiciary — whose Court Interpreter Program’s 2024 budget is USD 4.2m — cannot accommodate significant pay increases for court interpreters.
In an email to interpreters referenced by Sahan Journal, Shorba acknowledged that interpretation volumes have “doubled” since 2019, and wrote that the Judicial Branch will request an additional USD 1.6m for the Court Interpreter Program in the next session. If approved, this could bring rates up to USD 75 per hour for spoken language interpreters.