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CWA-TNG ASL Interpreters United In ULP Strike Against Purple Communications
by Labor Video Project
Tuesday May 6th, 2014 9:16 AM
Sign language interpreters who work at Purple Communications in Oakland went on an unfair labor practice strike in Oakland. They were joined in the strike by workers in Colorado and Arizona. They are faced with carpal tunnel syndrome and pay cuts to pay for healthcare.
CWA-TNG ASL Interpreters United In ULP Strike Against Purple Communications
CWA-TNG Local 39521/Pacific Media Workers ASL interpreters
went on a one-day unfair labor practice ULP strike against Purple
Communications on May 5, 2014 in California, Colorado and
Arizona. Purple Communications is a video relay service
which employs American sign language interpreters throughout
the country and receives millions in public funding.
The union CWA Local 39521 has been seeking to get a contract
for over a year. The company has also made flagrant violations
of labor rules and imposed increased healthcare costs and
extended time required on VRS machines that is causing serious
health problems including carpal tunnel syndrome for the interpreters.
These interviews were conducted in Oakland, California
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American Sign Languages Interpreters United ULP Strike in Oakland May 5 2014

Purple gets an earful during ULP strike

Local executive officer Carl Hall, center, played harmonica during picketing at the Oakland Purple Communications worksite Monday morning. Photo by Local 39521 staff 2014.
American Sign Language interpreters struck Purple Communications Inc. on Monday in a lively show of outrage over the company’s latest unfair labor practices.

Members of ASL Interpreters United, an affiliate of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, carried picket signs outside unionized Purple worksites in Oakland, Denver, San Diego and Tempe, Ariz., declaring the interpreters were “stronger together.”

Only a handful of union-covered workers showed up intending to work at the four sites. In some locations, strike participation was close to 100 percent.

Members made video testimonials to help explain why the battle with Purple is so important. The mother of an interpreter in San Diego made 90 tamales for the picket line participants. Supporters joined the picket lines in a steady show of public and labor support that included teachers, nurses, postal workers and truck drivers.

ASLIU members in San Diego were treated to tamales by a supportive mom. Photo courtesy CWA staff 2014.
“I love all the strong community support,” Laurie Rivard, an ASL interpreter and union leader, said during the Oakland picketing, where horns honked throughout the day.

Anthony Brown, one of the more energetic Oakland strikers, kept in nearly constant motion, trotting along beside cars and city buses passing in front of Purple’s office along a busy downtown intersection.

It was chilly in California. In Tempe, Ariz., the thermometers were reading in the triple digits.

The Arizona picketers included three supporters from the deaf community. Local media picked up the story and the union press release was posted on social media.

Email access through the company’s servers appeared to be blocked at least temporarily at some locations, according to unconfirmed reports.

ASLIU members in one-day ULP strike against Purple Communications. Photo courtesy CWA staff 2014.
The unfair labor practice strike was a one-day protest called when the company chose to implement changes in health care benefits, without bothering to reach an agreement with union negotiators. The strike ended at 6 p.m. Monday.

Changes in terms and conditions generally must remain status quo without a union agreement, except in cases of bona fide impasse or other rare exceptions. At Purple, health care is a critical issue, because the interpreters have been forced to skip breaks in a profit-driven speedup.

The company, based in Rocklin, Calif., provides video-relay-service interpretation through the telephone network, through a program regulated and subsidized by the federal government. ASL interpreters suffer a high risk of workplace injury if they are forced to keep signing more than 20 minutes at a stretch.

ASLIU supporters Anthony and Earl picket outside of Purple Communications in Oakland as part of a one-day Unfair Labor Practice strike. Photo by Local 39521 staff 2014.
That’s one of the main reasons the interpreters organized 18 months ago. The ASL unit has been in negotiations for an initial labor agreement. One of the main issues in the talks involves how much time the interpreter must spend on calls.

Monday’s strike focused on the unfair manner in which the company changed the terms of employee health coverage. The ongoing threat to on-the-job safety was a major topic of conversation as well.

“This is about safety and health care,” said Carol Day, a veteran ASL interpreter who was picketing and handing out leaflets in downtown Oakland.

Fifteen picketers started at dawn outside Purple’s San Diego worksite. The crowd nearly doubled by mid-day, as members of SEIU and other unions, students and community activists joined in. Passing drivers kept up a steady soundtrack with horns honking in solidarity.

Emmalyn Spencer, snug in her baby stroller while her mom, Susan, carried a picket sign outside the Denver worksite, was the youngest participant in the Monday street action.

Emmalyn Spencer was the youngest participant in the Monday street action at Purple’s offices in Denver.
Denver members arrived at 6:20 a.m. and kept up a continuous presence throughout the morning. Five Purple workers have been with us: JoLinda, Beth, Crystal, Sara and Mariah. Representatives of the Denver Guild local, Jobs With Justice and the Postal Workers helped raise the volume.

Purple-colored leaflets proved popular on the Oakland streets, along with chants about the need to put workers, customers and taxpayers ahead of profit interests.

Sara Steffens, acting secretary-treasurer of the Newspaper Guild sector of CWA, joined in at Oakland, her hometown. She recalled serving as an election observer when Purple workers organized as she wielded a plastic clapper noisemaker.

“I’ve been inspired by the workers at Purple,” she said.

Monday’s strike happened to follow announcement last week by the Federal Communications Commission that the agency plans to fine Purple $11.9 million for alleged billing fraud. The company issued a transparent denial Monday at the same time Steffens was making noise at 10th and Broadway.

“We’re not the only ones noticing that this company doesn’t seem to be playing by the rules,” she said.

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ASL Interpreters Stage One-Day Strike at Purple Communications
May 05, 2014 08:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time

OAKLAND, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--American Sign Language interpreters at Purple Communications sites in California, Colorado and Arizona will be off the job and on picket lines today, in a one-day unfair labor practice strike called to protest unilateral changes the company made in its health care plan, the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, announced Monday.

“We are standing together for our health and safety”

The strike comes on the heels of a Federal Communications Commission announcement on Friday, May 2, that the agency plans to fine Purple Communications $11.9 million, claiming the company “sought and received millions” in fraudulent reimbursements. (See:

Today’s one-day strike is a protest by video relay service (VRS) interpreters fighting for a first contract at four centers – in Oakland, San Diego, Denver and Tempe, Ariz. – represented by Local 39521. The union has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, leading to a string of NLRB complaints and some settlements. Most recently, the union filed board charges after the employer announced that it would unilaterally implement revisions to the health care plan for covered employees, including increased deductibles and an increase in the employee portion of premiums for dependent-care coverage.

Only a week earlier, on April 23, the union and Purple had settled on ULP violations of employees’ legal rights at Purple’s Denver and Arizona call centers. Employees are frustrated about having to file another ULP charge. “We are standing together for our health and safety,” said Sarah Spencer, a VRS interpreter in Denver, Co.

Fatigue has a dramatic impact on the accuracy of communications, studies show. The professional standard for sign-language interpreting is 20 minutes interpreting, 20 minutes off to allow both the body and the brain of the interpreter to recover.

“We are currently required to be logged in approximately 50+ minutes per hour,” said Laurie Rivard from Oakland. “I have to decide on a regular basis if taking a bathroom break will prevent me from making my numbers for that day.”

Purple interpreters are the first employees to organize in the VRS industry, which is entirely funded by taxpayer dollars. VRS companies rake in profits of more than $2 per minute, according to FCC estimates. Seeking to protect their earnings, providers increased the amount of time ASL interpreters spend on the phone.

“No one wants an exhausted interpreter struggling through that important call,” said Michelle Caplette, a VRS interpreter from Tempe, AZ. “The deaf and hard of hearing community, and their hearing friends and family members, deserve better.”