Protest Continues as Colorado Court Interpreters Hope Pay Increase Passes House

Colorado Interpreter Strike 2023

Less than two weeks into their protest against low wages, Colorado court interpreters have been told that a pay increase may be on the way.

In a February 9, 2023 email, Court Services Director Brenidy Rice told interpreters that bill SB23-120 passed the State Senate with full support and was introduced in the House that day.

“We anticipate the bill will pass the House and be signed by the Governor within the next 10-14 days,” Rice wrote. “We […] are on the cusp of successfully obtaining this needed increase.”

Once signed by the Governor, the bill would apply retroactively to rates from February 1, 2023 on.

At the State level, freelance Spanish interpreters currently earn USD 45/hr, and interpreters working in languages other than Spanish (LOTS), USD 55/hr. 

Interpreters initiated a walkout on February 6, 2023, almost a year after petitioning the Colorado Judicial Department’s Office of Language Access (OLA) and the Denver County Court (DCC) for a USD 10/hr raise for independent contractors.

The DCC approved a raise that went into effect on January 1, 2023, while interpreters are still waiting to hear back from the State.

In a February 7, 2023 email, OLA Program Manager Deya Gonzalez — who describes herself as “a longtime member of the Colorado interpreter community” — stated that OLA submitted the request for an increase to independent contractors’ hourly rates in December 2022.

She attributed the discrepancy in rates offered by the State and the DCC to the city and county of Denver’s “completely different budget process and timing.”

“This has meant the rate increase became effective with DCC prior to the state judicial branch (OLA) receiving funding and approval for our request,” Gonzalez wrote.

More Than Just Money

A February 9, 2023 Denver Post article reported that about a dozen interpreters informed the Colorado Judicial Department by email of their participation in, or support of, the walkout.

Some interpreters sent judges an email that read, “With all the respect due to the Court, we regret to inform you that we will not be available to interpret for the hearing in your courtroom today as an act of protest against the mistreatment and ineffective leadership by the Office of Language Access.” 

Interpreter Victoria Asi explained that her issues with OLA extend beyond pay, ranging from unpaid invoices to unexpected “Beta testing” of tech platforms during interpreting assignments.

The lack of OLA-sponsored training, however, especially stings, considering the perfect storm of stagnant wages coupled with expensive third-party training — and the fact that continuing education is a requirement for interpreters to remain in good standing with the courts.

“This huge expense deters many interpreters working in LOTS simply because the cost may be higher than their actual income,” Asi told Slator in an email.

Asi added that she has seen “many talented colleagues” pursue higher-paying work in other states or at the Federal level, or with other employers, such as the FBI and the United Nations.

For Asi, concerned about retaliation for her participation in the walkout, the pay increase — and a resolution — cannot come soon enough.

“I have already noticed that certain districts are not hiring me for the month of March,” she wrote. “I fear this is due to my participation in the movement to improve working conditions for interpreters in the Colorado Courts.”