BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I was expecting to just have fun this week with one of my “irritants” columns, but something more serious accosted me.
Walking to my bus stop from work yesterday, I saw that Court Interpreters were picketing the County courthouse in downtown LA (and four other locations) over a labor dispute for better pay. They are seeking a stepped pay scale to reflect their experience (something other county, and other government, employees get) and better pay overall, having received only one raise in eight years, of only 2.5%, hardly keeping up with the cost of living.
“Why is he wasting precious space and pixels of Armenian newspapers on crud like this?” you may be thinking.
Well, besides the humanity embodied in the obvious fact of the strength in numbers provided by unions to employees who otherwise cannot possibly match the power of ever increasingly large employers, in this case, we have a very important Armenian angle involved as well. One of the languages that court interpreter services are available in is Armenian. This gives Armenian witnesses, victims, appellants, and defendants a voice. Without these people, many of our compatriots would be run over roughshod by the justice system.
Evidently, in just one day, the strike has already caused the courts to reshuffle case schedules. In time, the delays will accumulate and lead to a serious breach of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of a speedy trial. Out of self, community, and general civil interest, we should encourage the courts to do right by the interpreters.
This is especially easy since these employees have located an untapped source of funds, provided by the state, which is also renewable. Why the courts are refusing is a mystery. It’s probably a result of the lingering union-phobia generated by right wing ideologues and first implemented with great fanfare by the Reagan administration’s breaking of the air traffic controller’s strike. It may also reflect the callousness towards lower paid people that has grown in the same period of time. It’s time to re-inject some conscience into the governance of society. Otherwise, in a generation, we’ll probably be embroiled in serious revolutionary fervor and its frequent companion, bloodshed.
In the same spirit, it’s long past time for employees of Armenian institutions, particularly our schools and churches, to become unionized. If teaching assistants on college campuses and even some doctors have or are trying to unionize, why not our community’s employees?
So many of us are “independent” professionals, small businessmen, or petty shopkeepers that we generally haven’t noticed the impact of de-unionization in the U.S. Very soon though, that pattern of employment will change. Given a generation’s time and the slow disappearance of businesses unique, or at least better suited, to our dense communities/ghettos, coupled with the transformation of many doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, dentists, engineers, etc. into employees rather than being their own bosses, the need for the protection of a union will become more perceptible and palpable. It behooves us to start now on developing that awareness and necessary organizational connections.
Remember also that another labor dispute in the heart of our community continues, at the Glendale Hilton. The owners had continued their intransigence and we should not be patronizing it through our events, weddings, and other uses of that facility. However, the hotel has just been purchased by new owners. As I type this, they are meeting with the employees. It remains to be seen how they’ll behave.
Get more information about the court interpreters’ case. Go to www.cfinews.org. And generally, do right by labor and unions.