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Two big updates for L&I interpreters

Updated: Jan 21, 2023

NOTE: Just hours after we published the article below, PERC emailed WA INTERPRETERS and WFSE to announce its plan to tentatively schedule a third election for February 13-March 3. Given the pending legal action and ongoing questions about WFSE's eligibility, though, it's unclear if/when the election will be held.

Last week was a busy one here at WA INTERPRETERS. We have two big updates for L&I interpreters.

We filed the opening brief in our unfair labor practice case against L&I.

First, we filed our opening brief with Thurston County Superior Court arguing that it was an “unfair labor practice” for L&I to launch the interpretingWorks scheduling system while our union petition was still being processed by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC).

Why does this matter? L&I and WFSE have both argued that the state’s implementation of interpretingWorks was permissible because interpreters don’t have the right to bargain with the state over how our appointments are scheduled or assigned. WFSE organizer Ben Sercombe told interpreters that it was “literally impossible” for us to bargain over scheduling.

Well, we disagree. How work gets assigned is hugely important to our livelihoods, and our brief explains in detail why we do and should have the right to bargain over scheduling. And if we do have the right to bargain scheduling, then the state was legally required to wait until we certify our union and then bargain over any proposed changes to the scheduling system with whichever union is eventually certified.

No matter which union you support, all L&I interpreters should support our fight to be able to negotiate over appointment scheduling.

A Thurston County judge will hold a hearing in our case on March 10 (Originally scheduled for February 24).

WA INTERPRETERS v. PERC - APA appeal opening brief Final with attachments
Download PDF • 3.28MB

We challenged WFSE’s eligibility to represent L&I interpreters in court.

Second, we filed a lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court challenging WFSE’s eligibility to represent L&I interpreters. As we explained back in August, to be certified to represent L&I interpreters, an organization must have “as one of its primary purposes the representation of employees in their employment relations with employers.” The problem is that WFSE is structured to represent the local unions under its jurisdiction, not actual employees.

If the court agrees with our arguments, WFSE could be removed from the running to represent L&I interpreters.

WA INTERPRETERS v. PERC II - APA notice of appeal Final
Download PDF • 287KB

Is a third election on the way?

Maybe. We haven’t heard anything from PERC since its December ruling invalidating the last election results because of WFSE’s “deceptive campaign practices.” It’s not clear yet if PERC will move ahead with another election while WFSE’s eligibility to participate is being challenged.

Will the lawsuits prevent us from negotiating improvements with the state?

They shouldn’t. Remember, we had until October 1, 2022, to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the state addressing economic matters or, as WFSE organizer Ben Sercombe put it, “anything with a dollar sign attached to it.” Unfortunately, we missed the deadline, at least in part because WFSE’s delay tactics pushed back last year’s union elections by six months.

Even if a union was certified today, we still wouldn’t be able to bargain economic matters with the state until next summer and any negotiated agreement wouldn’t take effect until the summer of 2025. And unless we win our unfair labor practice lawsuit against L&I, we won’t be able to negotiate over things like scheduling at all.

So, while its incredibly frustrating to have to wait even longer to get the representation we deserve, we have plenty of time.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you updated on the latest developments and continue to fight for ALL L&I interpreters as best we can.

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