After a lengthy investigation into more than a dozen charges of anti-union activity, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is preparing to issue a formal complaint against SOS International, a federal contractor that provides language-interpreting services for immigration courts, the NewsGuild-CWA has announced.
The board is expected to demand reinstatement with back pay for several interpreters SOSi fired in retaliation for their organizing efforts during the early stages of the campaign.
The NLRB’s LA Region said it agrees with the union’s assertion that SOSi misclassified the interpreters as “independent contractors” to deprive them of their labor rights. The misclassification constitutes an unfair labor practice, the panel concluded, after consulting with the agency’s legal staff in Washington, DC.
Union attorneys said the finding has wide implications for the labor movement because employers in many industries have been misclassifying workers as freelancers and other non-employee contractors to avoid the cost of hiring regular workers.
SOSi workers are continuing their organizing effort with support from the Pacific Media Workers Guild (Local 39521) and the national union. If the campaign is successful, hundreds of immigration interpreters would be eligible to collectively bargain over the terms and conditions of their employment. TNG-CWA currently represents interpreters at courts in California and Illinois and at a hospital in Minnesota.
“I am ecstatic and cannot control my emotions due to the joy that finally, we have won the first step and are recognized by NLRB as employees of SOSi and not as contractors,” said Ismail Charania, an Atlanta-based Punjabi Immigration Interpreter.
Hilda Estrada, a Los Angeles-based Spanish interpreter, said, “Nothing feels more patriotic than to collectively seek workplace improvements and win. Federal contracts should be awarded to companies that support and respect collective bargaining.”
Local 39521 Executive Officer Carl Hall condemned the company’s strategy of using reprisals against its own workers to deny them their legal rights, calling it “one of the worst we’ve seen.”
“It’s particularly offensive for a federal contractor in the justice system,” he said. “And guess what? We fought back and proved this kind of anti-union strategy doesn’t succeed when working people stand together.”
Other violations by SOSi management include improper interrogation of employees about their organizing activities, surveillance of union activists, threats of legal action, cancellation or threats of cancelling work assignments, and rules against union communications and other activities in support of organizing.
The NLRB in Los Angeles is expected to issue the formal complaint documents as early as May 8, when a hearing will be scheduled. It will then be up to the company to decide whether to change its ways or continue to fight its employees through legal appeals.
The Pacific Media Workers Guild and TNG-CWA issued a statement praising the pending action and saying, “The union will not let up until justice is served and the individuals who suffered the discrimination get their pay and jobs restored.”