Conflicting Loyalties Follow Up

September 25, 2015 JAlfonso 6 comments

Ok to change your mindA few weeks ago, I posted an emotional response to media reports about TransPerfect, a very large company damaging the reputation of our industry. It is also a member of ATA, an association dedicated to upholding ethical standards. My suggested solution was to remove corporate members, thereby leaving ATA to solely represent interpreters and translators. The comments received through different social media channels were quite surprising to me. Three quarters of the responses strongly opposed my suggestion! In view of the foregoing, I share some of those thoughtful and valid reasons. Furthermore, I’ll type my latest conclusions after considering everything.

Reasons for not splitting

Below are a sampling of colleagues’ comments.  They represent the majority of responses. Debate from both sides was very engaging.  Please read the opposing view.

  • I’m glad that ATA is also home for larger companies. Plus, who is “agency” and who not? Sometimes obvious, often not.
  • I like the status quo. How to define the split? Companies with in-house translators OK? Freelancers who subcontract OK?
  • I support the idea of association having members from both ends of the spectrum. What I think is missing in the case of ATA is action as mandated by its bylaws, as you mentioned Jeff.
    The exchange of knowledge and opportunities that can take place at the association level between players at different ends of the spectrum can be truly beneficial. Agencies can help beginners by showing them how to prepare a resume the way THEY the agencies slike, they can also offer internships, mentorships, help freelancers become more business savvy, etc. Freelancers can share their concerns with agencies, comment on experiences and help streamline processes between T&I professional/Agency, etc.
    There is room for interaction and dialogue. There is no room for inaction. That’s the real problem.
  • I feel that, in the future, professional associations in our industry will need to have agencies on board to have any real clout. Speaking for an entire industry will always be better than speaking for one section of it.
  • I don’t see associations as representing a group of workers. Actually, in terms of translation & interpreting, associations bring together groups of businesses, each of which gets to pick their clients and their terms. To say that agencies are more powerful than freelancers is a bit of a misnomer as we are all in the position of saying yes or no to whatever work we like. Sure, agencies might have more clients and more financial clout but the world is big enough for all of us to find work. We are not their staff and they are not the enemy.
    Of course, all members of any professional association must be held to a code of conduct but surely the need to vet applies equally to everyone. Having a freelancer member who abuses colleagues and does bad work is surely just as damaging as having an agency member whose business practices are shocking.
  • I’m troubled by your post on your website practically advocating that ATA be split into a translators’ and a translation companies’ organization. You may be aware of the fact that this idea is not new and has been around since the foundation of ATA. In fact, the “founding fathers,” one of whom was a personal friend, were considering separate organizations, but the idea was rejected every time it came up, for different reasons. First, we are stronger if we’re united and can speak on behalf of all stakeholders in the profession. Second, it is not easy to tell apart translators and owners of translation companies. Aside from the purely commercial outfits managed by lawyers and businesspeople, the typical translation company is owned and managed by translators, usually successful ones who at one point became unable to handle the work flow and decided to farm out part of it to trusted colleagues. Many working translators have incorporated for tax reasons. Which category do the belong to? Note that, in order to hold office in ATA as a member of the Board, committee chair, or division administrator, you must be an active member, i.e., a translator, having passed a certification exam or peer review. During my time on the Board, we’ve had one or two Board members who were also company owners (I was one of those), but the majority has always been “pure” freelancers.Currently the only translation company owner on the Board is Faiza Sultan, who is, of course, also a translator. Thus being, any talk that the ATA Board represents the interests of company owners is pure nonsense. While in many issues translators and translation companies have diverging or opposing interests, we’re all parts of the same industry and have much more interests in common. Being able to talk to government or the media with one voice about language and translation issues, lends more strength to our position. Even when we disagree in certain issues, it is better if we can discuss those within the same organization. For all these, and possibly other, reasons, I’m strongly against splitting ATA

The arguments for maintaining corporate membership

1. ATA should represent the entire industry (we are stronger united; representation of all stakeholders in the profession).
2. Knowledge exchange between companies and freelancers can be beneficial.
a. Companies disclose their needs, provide education, offer internships, mentorships, and assist freelancers become more business savvy
b. Freelancers disclose their needs and concerns, and streamline processes.
3. The association needs agencies in order to have clout.
4. Agencies are not the enemy.
5. Code of ethics should apply to agency and freelancer alike.
6. It is difficult to distinguish translators and owners of translation companies.
7. The majority of board members are interpreters and not company owners.

If I missed something important please let me know.

My position at this moment

Both sides of this issue have merit. Notwithstanding those arguments, the American Medical Association does not permit durable medical equipment companies to join. This leaves me undecided, leaning towards my original opinion. However, during this journey, it is clear that I am a minority.  There isn’t enough support to eliminate it. One commenter recognized that although conflict was undesirable, the pros outweigh the cons. That seems to strike a balance with my struggle on this issue.

A common thread among respondents is apparent inaction regarding accountability. No one is happy with the news spotlight on TransPerfect tainting our professional reputations.  The behavior of the owners warrant removal as an ATA member, regardless of whether any particular member brings a complaint.  That is just public knowledge now.

Those who adopt my personal point of view believe that the presence of corporate members makes it politically difficult to take punitive action on ethical misconduct. This is the reason for inaction. If there is another logical explanation, I would love to ponder it.

Watching our industry reputation tarnished was always the real subject for me. The reaction, however, centered on the subject of splitting. I am a realist. Without majority support for elimination of corporate membership, the next step for me is to seek a solution upon which the majority can agree. Compromise allows each side to gain a measure of victory. People often take a rigid stance on problems. Sometimes, the answer is found by approaching it from a unique angle that hasn’t been considered yet.

Perhaps contracting a company to evaluate ATA’s processes and governance, report its findings, observations, and recommendations for improvements, can satisfy the membership. This would remove the emotional aspect of the discussion and work with facts.

I feel honored because rarely do I see bloggers get such large response from an opposing point of view. Most people who respond to my blog are like minded and tend to agree. The fact that so many disagreed with me tell me that there is enough level of trust and comfort with me to speak your mind.

Thank you for that! I love to be challenged and to be forced to think things out. I struggled to refrain from responding to everyone right away. I didn’t want to be combative, and I truly wanted to hear everyone’s opinion. I still do, so if you have anything new to add, please share it with me.

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6 Comments on “Conflicting Loyalties Follow Up

  1. Jeff, you forgot to take my LinkedIn comments in consideration, which reflect anything but inaction. The sad status quo is represented by two equally sad realities:

    1) If a company is an ATA member, like TransPerfect, and runs afoul of the code of ethics, the ATA board does nothing and only tells its members to raise an ethics complaint. What does that solve? Nothing. That suggestion is idiotic because it has no teeth and does not protect the interests of translators and interpreters, and other professionals in their line of work.

    2) The code of ethics is a big fat joke. If you are a new ATA member (it’s a rhetorical question, after all), you are instructed to take the Ethics ‘exam’ which consists of reading an online document. You gain points for that. That is it. No accountability, just reading a piece of paper. Even a monkey can do that.

    Moreover, even if we as an organization pretend to have any ethics guidelines, what are we doing to enforce them? I think this is a far more important and a far weightier issue than the oft-repeated ATA split into independent professionals and translation agencies.

    1. Your points are well taken Mario. I share your concerns.

      I specifically printed comments in opposition to splitting when this piece was prepared.

      I am glad however that you bring this up because inaction is recognized. Now the trick is to identify the cause and come up with a practical solution.

      1. Thanks, Jeff. Maybe this toxic inaction is the result of misguided priorities. On one hand, ATA represents translators, interpreters and other associated professions. On another, ATA is trying to be a hip marketer of whatever is fashionable these days, whether it’s social media, pointless percentages from the Bureau of Labor or high-level reports from Common Sense Advisory.

        There is no reflection, no thought process, no discipline, no long-term strategy beyond a few years and outside planning annual conferences. As a long-time conference attendee, all ATA conferences share the same worrying signs: the same meretricious mix of sponsors, the purveying of crappy ATAware, pre-conference seminars that in reality are lean on information (I can get the same instruction if I work hard at it), expensive and rich on self-promotion.

        Contrary opinions are seen as negative or off-topic. Remember how hard you and others worked to get a meaningful change done to the ATA Chronicle!

        How do similar organizations function? Are their boards completely made up of volunteers? How are personal agendas detected, monitored or challenged? This and many other questions to entertain would make for a long conversation.

  2. Jeff, I appreciate your being open-minded about this complex issue. As some others have pointed out, expelling ALL translation companies from ATA would not solve the issues of conflicting interests (translator want higher, agencies want lower rates for translations) or the bad behavior of some rotten-apple agencies. If an agency is not a member of ATA, the association could do nothing if it violates our Code of Ethics. Under the current structure of ATA, any person (member or non-member) may report a violation of the Code by a member and the Ethics Committee can take action, up to and including expulsion, against the culprit.

    For many years the Ethics Committee was AWOL and practically invisible to our members I trust that under the new Chair this will change. The current Ethics Code and our Bylaws authorize him to act against violators. However, the initiative should come from the offended party, who is to submit an Ethics Complaint using the form that can be found on the ATA website.

    1. I’m not sure if the current mechanism to deal with unethical behavior by companies or individuals who are ATA members is the best or most effective way to keep them honest.

      Suppose an offended party (an individual ATA member) files a complaint. Apart from the fact that there is a complaint form (which is not an electronic form, very 1998, by the way), does ATA keep track of the type of ethics violations it pursues and resolves? Are there any reliable statistics to show members (and outsiders) that ATA is serious about ethics? Do we know who comprise the Ethics Committee at ATA? Is this committee supposed to give regular reports of its activities?

      I’m afraid the answers are no, no, no and who knows.

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