Announcing “Democratic Interpreter Union”

A new blog for the rank-and-file interpreters who pay the union’s bills

Because of the separation of the interpreter bargaining unit from the PMWG and the formation of Local 39000, I have set up a new blog to carry on the struggle for a democratic, worker-controlled union. It is called Democratic Interpreter Union. You are invited to visit the site, follow it, and more importantly, to weigh in on the crucial issues facing interpreters at this important juncture.

In solidarity,

Diana Barahona

Sara Steffens, CFI try to ignore bylaws proposal

CFI appoints Aranguren, Ferreira and Taira to bylaws committee

The CFI and Executive Director Sara Steffens have performed an abrupt about-face on member participation in the process of drafting bylaws for Local 39000. At first, Torrone claimed that they welcomed members’ input, writing on April 15,

Your unit council has been communicating with both Sara and Bernie and has appointed a committee that will be putting out an outline and a rough draft of the new bylaws.  We should have something for you to sink your teeth into within a couple of weeks.  Remember, this process belongs to us all, and the CFI Board is only facilitating it––the ultimate decision rests with you, the members.

Your input is VITAL.

It was Torrone who capitalized the word, vital, which means “necessary,” “key,” “imperative,” “critical,” “indispensable,” and “crucial.” But in less than a week, the CFI not only was not inviting input, they were trying to keep the entire process under wraps.

What happened to make them change their minds? What happened is some interpreters took them up on their invitation and submitted their own proposal. On April 18, they sent Sara Steffens the Draft Bylaws for a Worker-Run Local and asked that it be posted to the CFI Web site and submitted to the membership for a vote. However, in a subsequent phone call, Steffens indicated that this was not going to happen. In other words, the union was going to censor their proposal.

Torrone did send out the following message on April 23:

Message to Members on Bylaws

Good morning everybody,

There seems to be some confusion out there about our new bylaws.

The CFI Unit Council, working closely with Sara Steffens and Bernie Lunzer of TNG-CWA, is drafting a new set of bylaws, which will be presented to all members for their approval.

However this document is not yet ready. We hope to have a draft for you to review in a matter of days. These bylaws will be distributed through official CFI channels once available.

Maybe the confusion lies with Ariel’s understanding of the word, VITAL. Maybe he thought that it meant, “NOT NECESSARY, THANK YOU.”

At a Region 1 question-and-answer session on April 25, the CFI leaders didn’t even mention the bylaws process until someone brought it up. Mary Lou Aranguren did admit that they had already appointed her, Mike Ferreira and Camille Taiara to the bylaws committee. However, Aranguren, Ferreira and Silvia Barden declined to  comment on the rank-and-file proposal.

Follow this link to sign a petition to Bernie Lunzer if you agree that members should have a say in the kind of local they are going to have:

Draft Bylaws for a Worker-Run Local

Major features of these bylaws:
1. Monthly shop assemblies will elect their own delegates to membership meetings with instructions on how the delegates must vote. Members may also attend membership meetings and vote on their own account. TTIG will be a shop.
2. Since delegates will be obeying the will of their shops, which is an exercise in direct democracy, there is no need for a representative assembly, which is a feature of representative democracy.
3. To make sure that those hired serve all workers, all hiring decisions will be made by an elected Personnel Committee, which will publish the names of applicants for a comment period.
4. In the interest of transparency, no closed meetings will be allowed except by the Personnel Committee
5. All annual budgets will be reviewed by the shop assemblies ahead of the membership meeting where they are voted on.
6. The executive officer will only carry out the decisions of the membership and handle the day-to-day business of the local.
7. Anyone can be on a bargaining committee.
8. Representatives and the executive officer will earn no more than the workers they represent.
9. In the interest of transparency, minutes of EC, unit council and membership meetings will be sent to the workplaces and delegates within 48 hours of meetings.
10. In order to provide workers with an equal voice and to encourage freedom of speech, the Web site will publish all letters and submissions, with restrictions on submissions that could affect collective bargaining and labor actions.
11. All meetings will be run according to Roberts Rules, no exceptions.
12. An ombudsman will be elected to assist workers who have complaints about the Local and to act as prosecutor when warranted.
Bylaws of Local 39000
Draft Bylaws for a Worker-run Local 


The California Federation of Interpreters, Local 39000 of the Communications Workers of America, is an organization that is run by the members themselves through their participation in shop assemblies, unit membership meetings, general membership meetings and elections. It shall be governed by the CWA Constitution, the constitution of The Newspaper Guild-CWA and the provisions of the following bylaws, which are supplementary thereto:


Section 1.    The Membership shall be the supreme authority of the Local. It shall vote on all major decisions, including the annual budget, major financial expenditures, all positions taken on legislative and political issues and all changes to the structure, bylaws or policies of the Local. Eligibility for membership shall be governed by the CWA and TNG constitutions. No fellow worker covered by one of the Local’s collective bargaining agreements containing a union security clause shall be denied membership in the union. No fellow worker’s membership shall be rescinded without a trial, as provided by the CWA Constitution.

Section 3.    The Executive Committee shall keep the Membership fully informed on the activities and finances of the Local, bring proposals to the Membership to vote on and execute the decisions of the Membership.

Section 4.   The Executive Committee shall hire personnel recommended by the Personnel Committee but shall not hire or open new positions on its own accord.

Section 4.   The Executive Committee may appoint officers and members of the Local as field representatives or other positions on a temporary, lost-time basis. It may approve paid lost time to elected or appointed members of bargaining committees as needed for negotiating sessions with management, as well as to nonelected or non-appointed members, subject to budgetary constraints. Approval of more than ten days per year of paid lost time for representational or political activities for any member requires the approval of the Personnel Committee, subject to the procedures for hiring staff.

Section 4.    The Units shall be the basic organizational elements of the Local. Units shall be the Membership of a shop or shops as provided by the CWA and TNG Constitutions. Units shall oversee the negotiation and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements, defend and uphold professional standards, demand respect for the civil and constitutional rights of people with limited English proficiency, and advance and defend the interests of members working in the private sector.

Section 5.    The Units shall consist of the four bargaining units of the California Federation of Interpreters.


Section 1.    The annual membership meeting shall be held each September. The agenda shall include approval of the Local’s budget.

Section 2.    A general membership meeting shall be held each April.

Section 3.    In election years, a membership meeting shall be held in November for the nomination of Local officers and the Personnel Committee.

Section 4.   The date, time and place of the membership meetings shall be set by the Executive Committee.

Section 5.    A special membership meeting may be called by the Executive Committee on its own accord or upon receiving a petition signed by 5 percent of the Local’s members in good standing.

Section 6.    Official notice and agenda of regular membership meetings shall be communicated at least fifteen days prior to the date of the meeting. Notice and agenda of special membership meetings, or special agenda items, shall be communicated at least 24 hours prior to the time of the meeting. Notices to the Membership shall be posted on the Local’s Web site, e-mailed to members’ last known e-mail address, and distributed in workplaces by shop secretaries or shop stewards.

Section 7.   A quorum shall be fifty percent of the Local’s members in good standing, counting all members represented by delegates. For the purposes of quorum, delegates represent all members in their shop not in attendance at the meeting, as well as any members of other shops they represent by proxy.

Section 8.   Robert’s Rules of Order shall be strictly adhered to at all membership meetings. Motions carry with 50 percent plus one vote.


Section 1.   Shop Assemblies shall be held every month in shops with two or more members. They shall be conducted as business meetings, following Robert’s Rules of Order or a simplified format, with a rotating chair and meeting secretary.

Section 2.   The Translators and Interpreters Guild shall constitute a shop.

Section 3.   A Secretary shall be elected by each shop to serve a one-year term ending on December 31. The secretary shall report to the assembly on the activities of the Local, communicate decisions made by the assembly to the appropriate union officers and keep the minutes of the assemblies on file.

Section 4.   Delegates shall be elected by each shop to attend unit membership meetings and general membership meetings. The assembly shall decide the number of delegates needed. At membership meetings, delegates shall present the names of the members they represent and cast proxy votes according to their instructions. If instructed to do so by the members, they may cast proxy votes in favor and votes against the same motion.

Section 5.   Members who wish to do so may attend all unit membership meetings and general membership meetings and exercise their right to make motions and vote. [Read more…]

Forget asking the membership what they want, the bosses have decided

Claiming that the majority of interpreters want to leave the PMWG, Carl Hall and Bernie Lunzer have decided to ask the CWA remove the CFI, the interpreter bargaining unit, from Local 39521.

A Statement to Local 39521 Members: Time for CFI to Depart

A majority of our brothers and sisters in the California Federation of Interpreters want to leave our Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, and start a new local of their own.
I want to help them achieve this goal.

CFI leaders have made it clear that no other option will work. In fact, they claim they have a right to leave anytime they choose, citing a provision in their affiliation agreement with us. I believe this right lapsed years ago, but see no point arguing it any more. It’s time for swift and decisive action.

Last week, I proposed a referendum inviting CFI members to vote whether to stay or go. I still favor the principle that members should decide such fundamental questions. But I have seen enough petitions and statements and mass emails to convince me that the members already have decided.

It’s time for CFI to exit Local 39521.

The Executive Committee of Local 39521 will meet at 10 am Saturday, March 29. I have placed on the agenda a proposal asking our parent union, the Communications Workers of America (CWA), to remove the CFI jurisdiction from our Charter. If the proposal is approved, we will invite CWA to take CFI out of Local 39521. It would take a three-fourths majority vote of the CWA executive board to do this.

CFI and our national union leadership then can move forward to create what I hope becomes a great new local in the TNG-CWA family.

In Unity,

Carl Hall
Executive Officer
TNG-CWA Local 39521


A Statement to Local 39521 Members from TNG Leadership:

The executive committee of Local 39521 is expected to take steps this week to sever its affiliation with the California Federation of Interpreters.

A board vote asking CWA to step in and take responsibility for the unit will be scheduled soon. The CWA Executive Board has the power to reassign jurisdiction or impose trusteeship.

As leaders of The Newspaper Guild-CWA, we are supportive of this swift resolution to a situation that has become untenable.

Alongside local leaders, we had worked diligently over the past weeks to find options that would have allowed all current members to remain within this local, which for 20 years has fought for the needs of interpreters in California and beyond. Barring that, we had hoped for a referendum letting CFI members choose to stay or separate. However, there is no longer a viable path toward either outcome, and the current crisis must not be allowed to continue.

We had attempted to mediate a solution to this dispute, as a neutral. But we have always been on the side of our members, and all workers who need a union to improve their lives.

Bernie Lunzer
Sara Steffens
The News Guild-CWA

Union trip paid for out of Professional Division funds

CFI Treasurer Lupe Astamendi refuses to respond to inquiries

After much prodding, and facing charges of misappropriation of funds, CFI President Ariel Torrone has acknowledged, in a roundabout way, that the money for his and Mike Ferreira’s secret trip to Washington came out of the CFI Professional Division.

Torrone suggested in an email that the decision to use Professional Division funds was his alone, and not voted on by the board. What he actually said was,

Since becoming CFI President I’ve had to make a lot of decisions regarding our unit. Those decisions, many of them related to finances, are made after consulting with both the CFI Board and Unit Council.

After being asked yet again, he reportedly said that the money he spent on the trip came from continuing education classes put on by the Professional Division, not from dues money (or agency fees–let’s not forget that nonmembers pay too). Dues money and agency fees are controlled by the local.

Whether this use of Professional Division funds for a meeting to talk about union business was in compliance with the CFI bylaws has yet to be determined. So has the amount spent and the manner in which the expenditure was approved, since the CFI leadership has no regard for transparency, democracy or complying with its own or the local’s bylaws.