OAKLAND, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--American Sign Language interpreters at Purple Communications sites in California, Colorado and Arizona will be off the job and on picket lines today, in a one-day unfair labor practice strike called to protest unilateral changes the company made in its health care plan, the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, announced Monday.
The strike comes on the heels of a Federal Communications Commission announcement on Friday, May 2, that the agency plans to fine Purple Communications $11.9 million, claiming the company “sought and received millions” in fraudulent reimbursements. (See: http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-plans-119m-fine-alleged-false-billing-cal-trs-provider.)
Today’s one-day strike is a protest by video relay service (VRS) interpreters fighting for a first contract at four centers – in Oakland, San Diego, Denver and Tempe, Ariz. – represented by Local 39521. The union has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, leading to a string of NLRB complaints and some settlements. Most recently, the union filed board charges after the employer announced that it would unilaterally implement revisions to the health care plan for covered employees, including increased deductibles and an increase in the employee portion of premiums for dependent-care coverage.
Only a week earlier, on April 23, the union and Purple had settled on ULP violations of employees’ legal rights at Purple’s Denver and Arizona call centers. Employees are frustrated about having to file another ULP charge. “We are standing together for our health and safety,” said Sarah Spencer, a VRS interpreter in Denver, Co.
Fatigue has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of communications, studies show. The professional standard for sign-language interpreting is 20 minutes interpreting, 20 minutes off to allow both the body and the brain of the interpreter to recover.
“We are currently required to be logged in approximately 50+ minutes per hour,” said Laurie Rivard from Oakland. “I have to decide on a regular basis if taking a bathroom break will prevent me from making my numbers for that day.”
Purple interpreters are the first employees to organize in the VRS industry, which is entirely funded by taxpayer dollars. VRS companies rake in profits of more than $2 per minute, according to FCC estimates. Seeking to protect their earnings, providers increased the amount of time ASL interpreters spend on the phone.
“No one wants an exhausted interpreter struggling through that important call,” said Michelle Caplette, a VRS interpreter from Tempe, AZ. “The deaf and hard of hearing community, and their hearing friends and family members, deserve better.”