On Saturday, July 19, under the hot summer sun, I arrived at Ruby Vineyard and Winery in Hillsboro to attend the fundraiser for District 36 Representative Jennifer Williamson. The drive in had been flat-out gorgeous, dotted with ripe orchards, U-Pick-Em berry farms, and golden rolling hills. The event itself was held amid some of the most spectacular scenery in the area, and the gem-like landscape was actually the inspiration for Ruby Vineyard’s name. This last tidbit was recounted to me by one of the owners, Flora, as she poured me a taste of Pinot Noir and I surveyed the visual and political scene at hand: a small but highly enthusiastic crowd of Williamson supporters, friends, and family were laughing and enjoying the delectable spread, a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream stand, and clutching raffle tickets (one prize included homemade cookies baked by Rep. Williamson’s mother that would delivered every month for a year). I spotted Williamson talking earnestly with a small group, so I took the opportunity to meet some of my nearby fellow attendees – a mortician and his wife, as it turns out, who I almost convinced to come karaoke-ing with me later that evening. But I digress.
I reminded myself of my purpose – believe it not I wasn’t there JUST to sip wine and sample samosas. My main motive in attending was to thank Rep. Williamson for her dogged work and advocacy on behalf of court interpreters across the state. In case you need some background: last legislative session (when OSTI itself was still just an idea) future OSTI founders and members met with Williamson to discuss the dire need for a court interpreter rate increase. Rates for certified and qualified court interpreters had been frozen since 1997, and Williamson, whose district includes the Multnomah County courthouse and who had been interested in and concerned about interpreter issues for many years, used her political clout as the then Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means to push hard for the court interpreter rate increase and stop us from being cut at the last minute from the budget, an event that had sadly happened many, many (many) times before. It turned out to be a nail-biter of a session marked by a flurry of meetings, letters, grassroots outreach, and, finally, public testimony. When the dust settled, the certified court interpreter rate had indeed been raised, from $32.50 to $40.00 per hour. As is typical in politics, the outcome was still a compromise compared to our original ask, which was $50.00 per hour with a yearly cost of living adjustment (COLA). But after a decade and half of no change, this decision was a major victory for certified court interpreters across the state.
Nevertheless, as I re-introduced myself to Williamson and thanked her for her advocacy, she had a choice phrase to describe the final, compromised decision (rhymes with “full-split”), and expressed her commitment to pushing for more next session. OSTI is particularly interested in working towards the COLA as well as a rate increase for court interpreters whose languages do not have a certification program, as those interpreters have also suffered a 15-plus year pay freeze.
I made my way over the the gazebo to meet some new people, chat with OSTI President Helen Eby, who also attended the event, and take in the view a while longer and wait for the raffle (I didn’t win the cookies). The view was perfect for a little reflection, and so I thought about OSTI’s goals and the unknown and possibly difficult road ahead towards achieving them. We’ve made some good first steps, but we will definitely need need Williamson and allies like her in Salem now and in the future.
Post by Jessica Dover, OSTI Treasurer