Oct.12, 2004 labor victory for Sonoma County bilingual
probation officers frees the officers from 'translating
servitude', and delivers an abrupt, county-wide wake up
call to all public officials.
decades, county officials have shut their eyes to the
county's growing Latino population and covered their ears
to pleas for help from their own bilingual personnel.
The Oct.12 legal victory affirms the officers' right to
opt out of bilingual pay premium, and to stop translating
on demand. The victory is certain to send shock waves
through other public agencies where discontent among bilingual
personnel has been mounting for years.
Women's Justice Center, where our clients are routinely
blocked from emergency services by top-down agency refusal
to properly bridge the language barrier, we hope this
victory will finally force the county to meet it's legal
obligations to the non English-speaking community -
Not by exploiting a couple bilingual officers and making
them handle it all, and not by continued contempt in pretending
the problem doesn't exist, but by finally creating the
comprehensive, full service, bilingual infrastructure
the law requires.
a labor dispute which has escalated sharply over the last
year, Sonoma County probation officers say they've been
"overwhelmed" by increasing daily demands to
translate beyond their own caseloads. They are run so
ragged, they say, translating for all the other officers'
caseloads, and for clerical workers, too, they can't get
their own jobs done.
of 107 sworn deputy probation officers in Sonoma County,
only 4 of these 107 are certified bilingual. This is absurdly
out of sync with our local population where, according
to the 2000 US census, 1 out of every 5 households in
the county speaks Spanish in the home. Like most public
agencies in Sonoma County, the Probation Dept. has heaped
the burden of meeting the bilingual needs on a very few
Ends Translating Servitude
probation case in question began heating up a year ago
last fall when the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association
which represents the officers met with Probation administrators
to relay officer complaints of overwhelming translating
demands. Probation administrators promised to meet with
the officers, but never did.
the following months, Probation administrators continued
to ignore the officers' concerns and their suggestions
for better handling bilingual needs. Last February, the
officers' distress reached the breaking point. The bilingual
officers signed a joint letter to Probation Chief Cora
Guy giving thirty days notice that they were giving up
their bilingual premium pay of $.95 an hour, and that
they would no longer translate on demand. Probation Chief
Guy wrote back ordering the officers to continue translating
- or face discipline up to and including firing.
was following this brick wall rebuff by Chief Cora Guy,
that the bilingual officers through their association
filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the California
State Public Employment Relations Board against Cora Guy
and other county administrators.
October 12, 2004, in response to the labor board review,
Sonoma County Consul and Probation Chief Cora Guy signed
a settlement agreement affirming the bilingual officers'
right to opt out of bilingual pay premium programs that
require the officer to translate on demand. Though the
officers still must translate a call back time or an appointment
time to non-English speakers, they can no longer be called
out of their own work, against their will, and be ordered
to translate for others on "substantive or procedural
issues and explanations".
overall problem is rooted in the county's sheer "cluelessness"
says Shawn Dufosee, president of the Sonoma County Law
Enforcement Officers Assoc. which represents the officers;
county "cluelessness" on the population realities
of their own county, on their legal obligations to limited
English-speakers, and on how to properly treat their bilingual
personnel. Dufosee's assessment is echoed by Carolyn Lopez,
field representative of SEIU local 707 which represents
about 2,000 county workers in health and human service
fields. According to Lopez, county administrators talk
about the need for interpreters, "And they talk about
it....and they talk about it....and they talk about it."
And the way they talk about it, says Lopez, is "like
it's a nuisance".
SEIU has been involved in a parallel dispute with the
county over unjust translating demands on their workers.
Over a year ago, in September 2003, as part of contract
negotiations, the SEIU won an agreement that the county
would establish a county wide bilingual committee to address
bilingual worker concerns.
bilingual officer goes to work in the morning to his or
her own job, says Dufosee, then quickly and unpredictably
gets jerked around throughout the day - every day - to
interpret for other colleagues' caseloads, and for clerical.
Like most bilingual personnel, the bilingual probation
officers are torn between a need to free themselves from
abusive work demands on the one hand, and a desire to
help the under served Latino population on the other.
Most bilingual personnel are, themselves, Latino. They've
tried to juggle the conflict, but the county's abuse became
so extreme, the officers concluded they were neither helping
the public nor themselves by putting up with it any longer.
officers were hired as probation officers," says
Dufosee, "They're not translators, and they're not
clerical." "They want to get back to doing the
probation officer work that the public pays them to do."
To emphasize the extremes of the abuse, both Dufosee in
law enforcement and Lopez in health and human services
say they know of fully bilingual officers and personnel
who "won't cop to being bilingual" in order
to avoid rampant county abuse they see of their colleagues'
Long Time Brewing
the October 12 settlement agreement with probation officers
is the first time officers in the county have won legal
relief from translating servitude, it's not the first
time that officer distress over these demands has broken
into open protest. In 1995 when Sonoma County Sheriff
Deputy Frank Trejo was shot and killed, at least 25 potential
witnesses to the shooting were monolingual Spanish-speaking.
They had to be interviewed and taped, and then the Spanish
language taped interviews had to be translated into English
officers from throughout Sonoma County and beyond were
pulled off their own work assignments and pressed to the
task. Months and months later, some of these same bilingual
officers were still spending their entire days translating
and transcribing the taped interviews. Some of the officers
protested vehemently that translating and transcribing
tapes was outside their job descriptions, but the officers
didn't prevail. At least one of these bilingual officers
quit his job in protest.
struggle by bilingual probation officers, in fact, comes
after more than a decade of community attempts to pressure
public officials to properly meet bilingual needs. This
year's fracture at the Probation Dept. is just one of
many current indications that our county's 'clueless'
response to the Latino population would probably be better
characterized as outright contempt.
October 27, the Press Democrat reported on Santa Rosa
education officials' complete destruction in one year's
time of Santa Rosa's bilingual education programs. And
on October 28, the same paper reported a protest meeting
in Windsor of 260 Latinos who were livid at the continuous
mistreatment they receive from Sheriff's deputies who
patrol the area.
in response to our early November questions about progress
towards a remedy, deputy Probation Chief Bob Ochs says,
"I don't know if we have specific plans. We're always
looking for ways to better serve the public. This kind
of disdain from county administrators goes a long way
to illustrate why the county's bilingual needs are at
the breaking point.