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UPDATE MEET & CONFER BETWEEN THE UNION AND ADMINISTRATION

Extension of Telework for Interpreters
 
The Union and the Court had a productive Meet and Confer session this morning, Thursday, July 29th. CFI expressed appreciation for the Court’s decision, announced yesterday, to extend telework for an additional thirty days, and related to Management the outpouring of relief and appreciation from the membership that immediately followed the Court’s announcement.
 
CFI attorney, Laurie Burgess, joined us for this Meet and Confer session, and expressed gratitude for the Court’s decision to take the time to approach the question of return to on-site work in a thoughtful and meaningful way, given the life and death nature of the situation. 
 
All parties to the Meet and Confer agreed that this extension period allows for a continued conversation about how to provide for and improve upon workplace safety in a time of COVID, both for those currently working on site and in terms of a planned and sensible transition process for those returning to on-site work in the future. 
 
In addition to the interpreters, the Court has extended telework for other employee groups for whom teleworking also continues to be feasible, while yet other employee groups have been required to remain on or return to on-site work. The Court reminded the Union that any employee on telework -- teleworking managers included -- can be called to report back to work in the courthouse if there is an on-site need.
 
The Court asserted that it is still encouraging 6’ social distancing where possible, especially in areas where people will be removing masks to eat, although it is no longer mandated by the Department of Public Health. The Union pointed out, however, that according to different public health agencies, there is a distinction in the indicated protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. While CFI applauds the universal mask requirement within courthouses, the Union believes that since the vaccination status of members of the public and employees alike will be unknown, the safest course of action is to keep the higher level of protocols in place, meaning that, as specified by the CDC, 6’ social distancing should continue to be a requirement.
 
CFI recommends this for everyone’s protection, not just interpreters, but the point was made clear that the unique way interpreters work also requires an additional level of protective protocols. Interpreters often visit multiple courtrooms daily and, in some cases, especially for OTS interpreters, multiple courthouse locations, bringing us in contact with more people in a day than any other employee group. The nature of interpreters’ work also often requires greater physical proximity to the individual receiving language services than is required of any other employee or Court partner with whom these court users interact. 
 
The Union asked whether the Court is looking into which types of proceedings may be feasible for remote work as an accommodation option through the Department of Leave Management for interpreters at high medical risk. Although the Court could not provide a definitive answer at this time, the issue is still an active part of the conversation. 
 
The Union was made aware of some enhanced safety measures that have already been implemented by the Court in response to on-site safety concerns interpreters have expressed to Management, including:

 

Plexiglass barriers in lock-up
 
Sheriffs agreeing to place headsets on custodies where safe to do so
 
Provision of 2-way devices with 3 headsets each for lock-up interviews 
 
In our conversation it was acknowledged that the two-way devices can also be used for witness testimony to avoid unnecessary physical proximity.
 
Jurors are only being allowed into the courtroom one panel’s worth at a time.
 
For contact tracing, all interpreters on-site at the time of a positive COVID report, including floaters assigned on a given day, are being contacted by Supervisors to ask whether those interpreters had been in the proximity of the COVID positive individual.
 
If an interpreter informs a supervisor or manager that the lounge area seems too crowded, an alternate waiting area will be provided.
 
Management reiterated that the Court wants to hear of any impediments to a safe and healthy workplace, and again expressed the shared desire to actively address and resolve any hazardous conditions. Management also wished to remind the membership that they can only address issues of which they have been made aware, so ask that interpreters please speak up.  They assured the Union in no uncertain terms that members need not fear retaliation for bringing an unsafe working condition to the attention of Management.
 
To review, the procedure to follow in case of an unsafe working condition -- whether COVID-related or otherwise -- is to contact one’s Supervisor. If the Supervisor is not available at that moment, contact Language Access Services Management directly. The Union suggests that if the communication is telephonic, the member who experienced the hazardous condition should follow-up with an email to the Supervisor and/or Manager with whom they spoke, and CC the Local, so that all parties are in the loop and able to help facilitate a solution. 
 
An overarching part of this process, not unlike conversations happening in other workplaces, is the identification of the ways in which the workplace has changed because of the pandemic. Due to the evolution of the workplace to meet the challenges of the past year and a half, what newly feasible options have emerged both for accommodation purposes, and as potential new and more effective routine ways of handling certain types of proceedings and interpretation events? This potentially fruitful conversation is ongoing.
 
CFI was assured that the information presented, and concerns raised in the Meet and Confer meetings between the Union and Management are taken back to Court executive leadership, i.e. the decision makers, and that materials provided for review will be passed on as well. 
 
The Union and the Court agreed to meet again approximately two weeks prior to the new planned return to on-site date, yet undetermined, to continue assessing the changing pandemic situation, as well as addressing the various issues raised in a spirit of collaboration in creating the safest, healthiest, most supportive workplace for interpreters to effectively provide the highest level of language access possible.
 
In unity, your Meet and Confer Team
 
Kathleen Sinclair
Gabrielle Veit-Bermúdez
Roxana Cárdenas
Mónica Almada
Michael Ferreira
 

 

UPDATE MEET & CONFER BETWEEN THE UNION AND ADMINISTRATION

Termination of Telework for Interpreters

On Thursday morning, July 22nd, the Union met with Administration for the second in a series of Meet and Confer sessions to request an extension of telework based on the recent spike in new COVID cases in Los Angeles County and the emergence of the extremely contagious and virulent Delta variant. 

Considering recent public health developments, together with the Court’s decision to eliminate social distancing and cease to limit the number of people in the courthouse, the Union asked that the interpreters currently on telework continue to telework until the current spike in L.A. County has been brought under control. This is allowable under the emergency telework agreement entered into between CFI and LASC in May of 2020 for the purpose of minimizing exposure to COVID. The agreement already provides for an additional 120 days of interpreter telework at the Court’s discretion after the lifting of the Department of Public Health’s declared state of emergency. 

The Court indicated that it intends to proceed with across-the-board elimination of telework for interpreters under the emergency agreement. In response, the Union requested that at the very least, the most vulnerable and those still experiencing the greatest COVID impacts related to dependent care be kept on telework or partial telework, where applicable. These include those interpreters who are at high-risk, those few interpreters who, for medical reasons, are precluded from receiving the currently available class of vaccines, and those with dependent-care issues.

Points raised by the Union included:

  • Remote interpreters are presently being used extensively and with success in various areas, including Children’s Court, mediations, probate, and civil matters, and for simple proceedings such as continuances in both criminal and civil courtrooms. There continues to be plenty of work which lends itself to the use of telework, so that at the very least, interpreters who are the most vulnerable or dependent care impacted can meet the needs of the Court remotely.
  • Since the Court has full ability to keep teleworkers off-site under the current emergency teleworking agreement, why incur the added liability of bringing them back on-site, especially those with particularly vulnerable conditions, and those working in locations apt to be particularly contagious, such as Children’s Court which will most likely have an exceptionally high percentage of users present who are unvaccinated due to age limitations on the current vaccines.
  • The Presiding Judge has issued an order allowing the continuance of certain Criminal trials for 2 weeks, and Juvenile trials for 4 weeks.  Why not provide an extension of similar length to interpreter teleworkers in the interest of health and safety?
  • The Court is encouraging litigants to appear remotely where and whenever possible.  In these cases, however, those interpreting for them must be on the same audiovisual platform whether at home or in a courthouse, because of the complex audio environment and nature of interpreting in remote hearings.
  • Should it have the will, the Court has a variety of creative solutions at its disposal to employ any of these potentially life-saving strategies: Interpreters can be brought back on site gradually to allow for the most vulnerable to be the last to return; temporary hybrid part on-site/part off-site assignments could aid in reducing the amount of exposure time in the workplace; our most vulnerable colleagues could remain on telework with periodic review and risk assessment.
  • The Union’s request is for the extension of at least some of the current temporary telework assignments under the emergency telework agreement that is currently in effect. This conversation is not about creating or converting current telework to regular telework assignments, which would be an entirely different discussion.
  • If a continued telework option does not exist during this dangerous phase of the pandemic, the Court stands to lose the services of those who are medically unable to vaccinate or who, for other medical reasons, will be forced to utilize one of the medical leave options to avoid the increased level of exposure created by the elimination of distancing and removal of courthouse occupancy limits. It would serve the Court far better for these individuals to remain on telework for the time being, and thereby continue to be available to meet Court needs.
  • Other large, public entities are taking a more sensible approach:
  • L.A. County is allowing extension of telework for employees in some areas of County employment.
  • Alameda Superior Court is keeping the small number of teleworkers with an exceptional medical vulnerability to COVID on telework for the time being, with periodic check-ins regarding whether to return on site.
  • There is no reason LASC can’t employ some of these strategies to protect its interpreter employees. It is wholly within the Court’s power and ability, under the emergency telework agreement of May 2020, to extend telework assignments for up to 120 days past the lifting of the Department of Public Health’s emergency order (something that still has not happened).
  •  We do not want to see any more colleagues die.

The Court’s responses to our requests:

  • The on-site need has doubled with the end to both social distancing and limits on court users allowed on site at a given time; therefore, the Court needs all of those currently teleworking back on site.
  • The Court is ending teleworking for interpreters at this time. The Court is unwilling to extend any consideration under the teleworking agreement for those who remain at higher medical risk if exposed to COVID, nor those whose medical condition precludes them from the presently available vaccines.
  • The Court is not willing to take into consideration any COVID-related dependent-care impacts to interpreters in the decision to end telework.
  • The Court clarified that anyone with a medical vulnerability that contraindicates on-site work should go through the Department of Leave Management (DLM) and the interactive process to determine whether an accommodation may be made.
  • The Court indicated that those with child-care scheduling issues, or reduced school day hours due to COVID impacts or any other reason can address those temporary scheduling needs through the RTO process, via their Supervisor and Management.

This is not the end of the conversation. There were a number of questions the Union put to the Court between the first and second meet and confer sessions that the parties have yet to discuss in depth. The Union will meet and confer with the Court again next Thursday, July 29th. We are still hopeful that some progress can be made in the effort to provide for safe working conditions for interpreters.

Our bottom line, which we expressed in no uncertain terms to the Court, is that we do not want to see any more colleagues die because the Court was unwilling to provide an adequate – and absolutely available – alternative to on-site work during this new and   dangerous phase of the pandemic, in particular for those among us especially vulnerable to and impacted by COVID-19 and its more dangerous variants.

In unity, your Meet & Confer Team

Kathleen Sinclair
Mónica Almada
Gabrielle Veit-Bermúdez
Roxana Cárdenas
Michael Ferreira

 

 

Los Angeles Superior Court receives a COVID-19 violation notice as a result of a CFI complaint on behalf of LA Court Interpreters

Dear members,

CFI filed a complaint with the California Department of Industrial Relations because of serious safety issues that were reported to the Union. As you are all aware,  dear colleagues passed away from COVID-19 in LA Court. These tragic losses shook the entire interpreter community in California. Two Health and Safety Grievances were also filed, and settled, as LA Superior Court heard CFIs request to keep interpreters safe. We are sharing with you the citation issued to LA County Superior Court, as well as the letter sent to our attorney, Laurie Burgess. Laurie assisted us in this process, as she coordinated and filed this complaint on CFI's behalf.  We will keep you updated on this issue. It is important you keep reaching out to us with any issues so we can continue to assist you in any way we can.  

In Solidarity,

Carmen Ramos
Secretary-Treasurer, CFI Local 39000

Citation and Notification of Penalty
State of CA Dept. Industrial Relations Letter

 

Termination of remote work 

Dear members currently on Remote Work,  

Some of you have begun to receive a letter from LA court Management ending your telework assignment. The Court has a right to do this. The Union will, however, meet and confer with Administration about impacts and a safe return to work. CFI is asking for modifications and/or temporary extensions of telework for interpreters who have COVID-related impediments to returning to on-site work by the date indicated in the return-to-work letter, either due to health or child/dependent care issues.

You will each soon receive a survey from CFI regarding any impediment you may have to returning to on-site work. Please fill out the survey and return it to CFI as soon as possible so that when we meet and confer with the Court, we’ll know both how many people will be impacted and what types of issues are involved, so that we can most effectively negotiate possible modifications.

Although the Court lifted social distancing requirements and capacity limits, they haven’t changed any protocols regarding mask wearing in the public areas. The public must wear a mask to enter courthouses and the entire time they are inside any area of the courthouse. 

At this point, all employees are required to wear masks in both public areas and non-public areas, whether they are vaccinated or not. This may be relaxed for vaccinated employees in non-public areas in the future, but as of now, it’s all masks everywhere, all the time. 

Stay tuned for more information re: returning to work safely. Thank you all! 

In solidarity, 

CFI. 

 

 

Urgent Message Region 2 VRI

RETALIATION!!!

Dear Region 2 Colleagues,

Late last night we received 2 letters from T. Michael Yuen Region CEO Chair and Kim Turner, Region 2 Administrative Chair stating that regardless of the fact that we are addressing VRI in bargaining, they will impose starting September 1st. This is an obviously retaliation for our mobilization that killed their remote hearing legislative bill. As you all know, the Governor reopened California on June 15, 2021. This means that all courts have 90 days after June 15, 2021 to transition away from remote access per the Chief Justice Pandemic Emergency Order.

The Courts can threaten all they want. WE WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS! It is time to show the Courts that they will not bully us. We will not accept something that is not right for us. We have all experienced firsthand from using remote platforms the difficulties, the miscarriage of justice when technology fails, the breakdown of meaningful access to justice when there is connectivity lags or when all participants do not allow time for interpretation. We will not be placed in a position post pandemic where the quality of work is threatened. Our primary purpose is to be the conduit of access to justice. We should not allow anything to compromise that.

It is not a coincidence that the JC suddenly decided to update contractor rates! This was a smoke screen to establish VRI pay for hours worked only. The JC’s argument of contractors are too expensive and their adamant persistence of VRI is not by accident. Most courts in Region 2 are operating with employee skeleton crews. So who do you think will be doing VRI? Certified or registered contractors? Wrong. No certified or registered contractor will be accepting the $44 an hour for VRI. As the code states, when no qualified interpreter is NOT available, the court can find good cause to use “an interpreter who does not hold a court interpreter certificate” to provide services. Setting rates that it is fully known will be rejected by certified or registered interpreters is an excuse to say that there is “good cause” to use a non-certified or non-registered interpreter.

By now many have heard the rumors about the JC trying to create a lower employee tier with non-certified interpreters. This is not a rumor. The JC has been trying to do this for years. The Union has been the reason it has not happen. The JC’s continuous attempts to erode our profession by making employment less and less attractive is the strategy to make this a reality. We cannot let this happen.

Although we are filing a record number of unfair labor practices, we now need to use our voices and work actions to send the message. Current VRI proposal takes away the 25% stipend if courts choose to use VRI locally with employees and will only apply for cross assignments. We all know that the possibility for any employee cross assigning remotely are very slim. VRI should not be used without carefully throughout limitations. Uncontrolled VRI is dangerous for justice, places LEP’s at a disadvantage, places our quality of work in peril, and should not be the preferred method of delivering interpretation services. With the letters we have received, it is evident that the courts care nothing about access to justice. Convenience is the driving force. 

Lastly, there is no uncertainty regarding our budget. The legislature and Governor understand and support the importance of language access and is supportive of the labor force. Strong show of work action is the path to take if we want to obtain an adequate livable wage. We are as strong as our weakest link. Don’t let differences be the obstacle to secure your livelihood. I, Carmen Ramos, Secretary Treasurer and Maria Cruz, Santa Clara Steward will lead the mobilization. They will be organizing and setting up meetings soon.

We are including the letters we have received form the Region for your review. 

Notice of planned adoption of VRI in Region 2 - June 21, 2021

VRI planned adoption of VRI in Region 2 - December 8, 2020

In unity, 

Carmen Ramos
Secretary-Treasurer
 
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