“AB5 will not only disrupt my life, it will destroy my life.”
Sophia Aguirre has been a trilingual interpreter–spanish, english and sign language– for 30 years. Aguirre was inspired to become an interpreter at a young age because both of her parents were Deaf. While completing her undergraduate degree at California Polytechnic State University, Aguirre worked as a non-certified interpreter. After graduation, she took the national interpreter certification exam and became a certified interpreter.
After becoming certified, Aguirre worked for Video Relay. Funded by the Federal Communications Commission, Video Relay makes it possible for the Deaf to be reached by telephone by providing interpreters. Aguirre explains: “if there’s someone Deaf you want to call, you call Video Relay and then an interpreter pops up on their computer or phone.”
Aguirre was employed as an independent contractor for Video Relay, working a certain number of hours per week. Now she works completely independently. As an independent contractor, she can sign on with different agencies in her area or across the nation. In most states, interpreters must be certified. They also need a business license and $100,000 worth of liability insurance. If interpreters meet these criteria and have a good reputation, they won’t even need to go through an interview process: the agency will just hire them.
With the implementation of AB5, California’s recent law that severely limits independent contractors, Aguirre has found her income slashed. She describes that most agencies or businesses that she works with don’t understand how AB5 applies to them: “They don’t even know what they need for me to do.” One agency decided that contractors need business cards, letter heading, and a website to be in compliance with the law.
Aguirre explains that since the implementation of AB5, agencies view independent contractors differently: “Instead of being an asset to them, we’re a liability to them.”
Aguirre explains that people work hard to set themselves up for a career as independent interpreters. “It’s a specific goal like being a nurse or a police officer,” she said. “You have to jump through hoops. I had four years of college before even being allowed to take the test to work as an interpreter. You don’t just jump into this career, you plan it. To have this taken away from us, after working for it for so long, it’s our livelihood.”
Aguirre said that AB5 will destroy her life. “AB5 will not only disrupt my life, it will destroy my life,” she said. “My livelihood and everything I’ve worked for…. It will devastate me and place me in a different social-economic status. I’ve moved up slowly but surely, and it will destroy everything I’ve worked for.”
Instead of protecting workers, AB5 is taking both opportunity and choice away from Americans. Aguirre says that she’s never faced the “workers’ rights” issues that AB5 claims to fix. She was trained in an interpreter training program and says: “They teach us to navigate through things like that. How to be proactive about our position, our independence. We state what we charge.”
Aguirre says of AB5: “There’s no benefit for this law for people that are completely independent contractors.”
For herself, she loves working as an independent contractor interpreter. Unmarried with two sons, it gives her the flexibility to be available for her children and build her own schedule. Aguirre also says that she has continued her education and taken additional courses at the university level, something she could not do without the flexibility of an independent contractor.
As an interpreter, Aguirre is able to change the lives of so many individuals. She explains that she works with trilingual interpreting and education in Los Angeles, going into homes with Deaf children and working with them one-on-one. Many of these children go to schools not specifically for the Deaf. They’re able to do this because they’re learning American Sign Language from individuals like Aguirre.
Aguirre is passionate about the damaging effects of AB5. She says: “Imagine your young daughter has a deaf friend, has an aspiration to be an interpreter, goes to Cal State Northridge, moves from home for years, and then suddenly, her opportunities are taken away because agencies don’t know how to interpret new government rules.”
Aguirre’s future work life is in jeopardy. She doesn’t know if she’ll be able to keep some contracts since many don’t even know how to comply with AB5. But she does know that AB5 hurts her and destroys a livelihood and lifestyle that she’s chosen and created for herself.
Do you have a story about how AB5 or similar independent contracting laws have affected your ability to work? Share your story here.