WASHINGTON, DC — On Wednesday, over 100 leaders from language service companies (LSCs) returned to lobby Congress on potentially “disruptive” employee classification regulations that continue to threaten to upend industry’s $51 billion/year business model.
Today, there are an estimated 500 languages spoken in the US, and 7000 in the world, and by 2021, the global market for language services is projected to reach $56.2 billion. In order to serve speakers of ALL languages, LSCs rely on a nationwide network of highly-specialized independent contractors (ICs).
May-day marks the second time in a year the Association of Language Companies (ALC) has met with Members of Congress and their staff as part of a larger legislative strategy to portray professional language services (translation, interpretation, localization, etc.) as “knowledge-based professional services.”
“The gig economy differs fundamentally from the knowledge economy in that “gig jobs” are often commoditized repetitive assignments with a low barrier of entry for nonspecialists,” said Rick Antezama, ALC President. “The typical example would be drivers for car-sharing services like Uber, or food delivery services like Grubhub. Knowledge jobs on the other hand, while typically temporary, exclusively admit highly-trained and educated professionals whose success is dependent upon the highest quality of work. Examples include State Department contractors or ER interpreters.”
To this end, the ALC is making several high-level asks of Congress:
Cosponsor the reintroduction of the Harmonization of Coverage Act (previously H.R.3825) which would harmonize the definition of the term “employee” for purposes of federal statutes and thus eliminate the ambiguity around worker misclassification liability for businesses.
Request public committee hearing in the House and Senate on employment classification and seek input from stakeholders to build consensus-based policy solutions.
Raising workers’ wages who contract with the federal government was also on the agenda.
Translation and interpreting (T&I) professionals employed by the government are often called on to convey and analyze messages with important content, so capturing the context, nuance, tone, and detail of the message is crucial, especially within the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community operations.
However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has determined that the prevailing wage rate of T&I professionals ranges from $20.72 to $26.94. The government is required to use this rate when soliciting bids.
According to the 2017 Compensation Survey conducted by the American Translators Association (ATA), translators earn, on average, $42.30 – $55.44 per hour and interpreters earn $55.87 – $124.68 per hour. This astonishing disparity is due to BLS’ outdated survey which misses a large sector of the workforce.
“High quality language services require a robust professional skill set, usually acquired through years of experience in the field, extensive education and immersion, and a certification process,” said Trey Calvin, Managing Policy Analyst of the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL).
Compounding the problem, government contractors generally use the Lowest Price Technically Acceptable (LPTA) model to solicit and review bids. Language services are categorized as “a commodity”, like pens and paper, which means that mission-critical services may be only meeting minimum technical standard required for the task.
"Technically, treating language services like buying paper has already been banned."
It is the position of ALC that LPTA is an unacceptable and inappropriate model for such highly-specialized projects.
“Technically, treating language services like buying paper has already been banned in the most recent NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act),” said Calvin, citing Section 880 (C) 2.
“‘Knowledge-based professional services’ should not be procured using LPTA any longer. We believe, with good reason, that language services fall into this category. Is the government still utilizing LPTA when looking for language services? That’s what we’re here to find out.”
To this end, ALC members are asking Congress for an elucidating report on current practices.
Request a special report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the comparative use of LPTA, Tradeoff, and other contracting approaches for the procurement of language services across all federal agencies.