This morning I talked on the phone with a recruiter and representative of SOSi. I'd been entertaining the idea of a move to Dallas and saw a listing from SOSi on an employment website for immigration court interpreters in the Metroplex area. I was interested because I had been superficially following the SOSi controversy regarding contracts and rates over the past several years. I wanted to put together a post that has compiled information about the conditions and rates they offered/discussed with me, and how that compares to my current (still budding) situation in Spokane, Washington.
Please understand as a disclaimer that I don't intend to advocate for or against working through SOSi. I'm interested in comparing and contrasting between very different markets, and compiling easily accessible information for others who might be curious about the same things.
Also, as a general note and disclaimer, my current situation as a freelance interpreter in Spokane, Washington will not offer a perfectly smooth comparison for the following reasons: 1) I am just starting out as a court interpreter in Spokane. This means I'm advertising myself, slowly starting to pick up appointments, negotiate fees etc. I do not work a solid, steady flow of court appointments at this point; and 2) the market, demand, and supply in Dallas and that part of the country is undoubtedly significantly different. Keep these factors in mind.
Firstly, I'd like to pay my compliments to the recruiter to whom I spoke over the phone. She was knowledgeable, clear, and thorough. I felt that she was attempting to be transparent and provide me with as much information as I asked for.
I'll present this in a Q&A format, according to each question I asked. Please take my summary and understanding of the information with a grain of salt, as this was only one 20-minute phone conversation.
Q. Are SOSi interpreters independent contractors or employees?
A. Independent contractors, with a 1099 MISC at the end of the year.
Q. Are the contracted interpreters required to accept appointment offers?
No. It is based solely on the interpreter's availability.
Q. What is the application process?
A. Applicants perform an interpreting test through SCSI Media (I've written about them in previous posts). Test contains three simultaneous portions, the first two portions covering "general vocabulary" and the last one covering "basic to intermediate legal vocabulary." Test also contains one consecutive portion.
After passing the test, the interpreter participates in an SCSI training course catered to the work environment they will be facing in immigration courts. As I understood, it is a modified/shortened course from the typical 10-lecture units offered by SCSI, with only one over-the-phone assessment. All testing/training is paid for by SOSi.
Q. What are SOSi's rates?
I was told $48 per hour with a three-hour minimum per on-site case worked. The recruiter explained that the courtrooms work with a "master calendar" and will hear multiple cases in one courtroom, or that the interpreter will be sent to various courthouses on the same campus in Dallas. The three-hour minimum applies per case, so if an interpreter covers, for example, three different cases in the same three hour period, this is three three-hour minimums, which means ($48x3)x3=$432 for those three cases. There is no cap to the number of cases paid in one day (e.g., an interpreter could cover five to six in one day, each paid at a three-hour minimum).
For on-site appointments, billing is rounded up to the closest hour (not fifteen-minute increments as I'm used to). That means that three hours and five minutes are billed at four hours.
Telephonic appointments are $48 per hour with a one-hour minimum.
Q. What is the cancellation policy?
Twenty-four hours with full billing within that period.
Q. What about travel expenses?
A. The only question I think I forgot to ask was about paid mileage for on-site, in town appointments. However, it was clarified that for out-of-town appointments, airfare, on-the-ground transport, food, and accommodation are all covered.
Q. Is there a non-competition clause in the contract? That is, is an interpreter prohibited for any amount of time from contracting directly through a facility where he/she has worked through SOSi?
No. The only stipulation is that the interpreter shall not market himself/herself at a facility while on the clock for SOSi. I asked specifically if that means an interpreter may call or negotiate on his/her own time directly through the facility, and it was stated that, yes, that is correct; there is no part of the contracting prohibiting you from working privately where you've also completed a SOSi assignment.
So how does all this compare? Well, at first glance, it’s appealing. The big caveat is that of course it would depend on how much work, i.e. how many cases, one can expect to work on average per week. With even three or four cases a day, this is significantly above what seems available to me in Spokane.
Part of the frustration in Spokane is that I’m currently battling to get the courts to pay the interpreters even a two-hour minimum. In my first conversation with the scheduling office of the District Court here, when I let them know that I will be charging a two-hour minimum because it is industry standard, I was informed that I would not be prioritized on the call rotation due to the fact that other interpreters are not requiring this. That’s another story, perhaps one for a later entry. But all that to say, the potential of a three-hour minimum in the midst of battling for two hours is attractive.
The rate of $48/hour is albeit lower than what court interpreters in Spokane are charging. However, depending on the job, $48 is only just under the general hourly fee here. And the fact that it’s slightly lower is hugely offset by the three-hour minimum. But again, it all boils down to what the average weekly case load per active interpreter is. If the market in Dallas is heavily saturated with interpreters, and each interpreter only gets a handful of cases per week, this obviously loses its appeal quite quickly. That means probably the only way to get a clear picture would be to talk to someone who is working through this SOSi contract in Dallas, and find out what his/her workload is like.
The other conditions seemed more or less comparable. I’d like to see a 48-hour cancellation policy for anything court related, but that is not the case for SOSi and, from what I’m gathering in Spokane, is not standard practice here either.
If anyone has any personal experience with SOSi, I'd be interested to hear it. I hope this information proves helpful as well. Thanks for stopping by.