I have heard the following statement many times: “ATA has conflicting loyalties! It is a conflict of interest to have an association represent both interpreters/translators and agencies. I cannot warn others or complain about an agency’s bad practices on a forum because it is against the rules since agencies are also members.” This topic definitely has a polarizing effect with some members.
ARTICLE III of the ATA by-laws
Membership section f.
Corporate: Corporate membership is open to any business firm with an interest in the translation or interpreting professions. Membership shall be in the name of the firm, not in the name of an individual. Individuals associated with a Corporate member may qualify as members in other classes in their own right.
Purposes (of the association)
a. The Association shall be organized as a not-for-profit entity with the following objectives:
1) to promote the recognition of the translation and interpreting professions;
2) to promote the communication and dissemination of knowledge for the benefit of translators and interpreters;
3) to formulate and maintain standards of professional ethics, practices, and competence;
It is a valid argument that allowing corporate members is contrary to ATA’s purpose of maintaining standards of professional ethics and suppresses free and open communication for the benefit of translators and interpreters.
Here is an example: In recent years, the company TransPerfect has been in the news. Here is a link to a recent article. For many years, many people have complained about its bad business practices. The current feeling is to not discuss those issues on the forums resulting in the occasional deleted post. Associations around the world discuss freely these kinds of issues. The result is that some members don’t feel that their needs are represented. Their attempts at communication about a harmful company is suppressed to the detriment of the members instead of their benefit.
The TransPerfect owners themselves have been found in a court of law to have acted unethically. This is common knowledge, all over the media creating a terrible reputation for our professions! Another purpose of the association is to maintain standards of professional ethics. There is no denying the very public problems of TransPerfect; yet its membership continues.
TransPerfect illustrates perfectly the conflicting allegiances that exist when an association represents two different groups that can at times have opposing interest. The association does not keep a list of companies acting badly, therefore such lists have been created outside. The practicing members feel that they can’t openly voice concerns about these important and relevant issues. There are associations for translation companies that represent their interests. So why shouldn’t ATA change the by-laws and eliminate Corporate membership? It comprises only a small fraction of the membership; we won’t miss the money.
Perception is often more powerful than reality. It is the observation of many ATA members that certain agencies: (1) severely underpay, (2) are slow to send compensation, (3) often neglect quality and (4) don’t even pay. Interpreters and translators deserve to earn a comfortable living and receive compensation commensurate with their worth. This means that there is a battle over fees, a potential conflict of interest between the two groups.
ATA has a process to resolve ethical conflict, but the prevailing attitude is that it doesn’t do enough because of incompatible fidelity. TransPerfect exemplifies this issue again. Ethics disputes are handled when someone files a complaint. Since no one obviously has filed a complaint (my opinion based on inaction) against TransPerfect, its membership continues despite its despicable and unethical reputation all over the world. This is a case where, in accordance with the by-laws, there has been justifiable cause to proactively take disciplinary action. Not all agencies are bad. Some are very good. However, some are just as bad, or worse than TransPerfect; at least in reputation.
Section 6 – Disciplinary Actions
a. Disciplinary actions, including censure, suspension, or expulsion from membership, may be taken for any of the following causes:
1) Conviction of a felony or other crime of moral turpitude under federal or state law in a matter related to the practice of, or qualifications for, professional activity;
2) Gross negligence or willful misconduct in the performance of professional services, or other unethical or unprofessional conduct (emphasis added) based on demonstrable and serious violations of the ATA Code of Ethics and Professional Practice;
Emily and I are members of other associations. For instance, I am a member of IMIA because I am a certified healthcare interpreter. Emily is a member of NAJIT because she is a state certified court interpreter. We feel that they represent our specific interests. What I have found is a very large number of members of different associations who were once members of ATA. When I ask why they are no longer members, the typical answer is, “They fail to represent my needs and interest, which is why I joined this other association.” There are a lot of smaller niche associations representing specific aspects of interpreting or translation. ATA is the largest and encompasses all of them. This means that ATA has more notoriety and greater influence than any of the other smaller, more limited associations.
I believe it is time for a change. It is time to remove corporate membership from the by-laws. I am also convinced that a major change like this would open the way for many hundreds or even thousands of past members to return. All they need to know is that the largest and most influential association is taking care of their needs. At its peak a few years ago, ATA had 11,000 members. Statistics show that our professions are growing fast. Therefore, our membership ranks should reflect that. If ATA were to make interpreters and translators really feel represented, I would imagine a much larger and stronger membership.
Amendment of Bylaws
a. These Bylaws may be altered, amended, or repealed only by a two-thirds vote of the voting members of the Association at any regular or special meeting called for that purpose. The complete text of the proposed change shall be submitted to each voting member in writing prior to the meeting.
b. Amendments may be proposed by the Board of Directors or by petition of fifty voting members of the Association. Proposals originating by petition shall be submitted in writing to the Board of Directors for presentation to the membership.
Some believe that if we were to do that, we would lose sponsorship at the annual conference. I don’t think so. Where else in the United States can agencies recruit and market to over 1,500 language professionals? The conference is the most cost effective and efficient way.
I realize this is a hot topic, but it is important to discuss. I would love to know your opinion for or against changing the by-laws. I promise to try and keep an open mind.