HCMC staff win agreement to cover video interpreting

MN Guild new logo 3-4-13Hennepin County Medical Center saw no need to consult its staff of professional interpreters before implementing new video interpreting (VRI) technology into its hospitals and clinics.

That was before interpreters mounted a unique mobilization campaign and their union, the Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild, filed charges of unfair labor practices against the hospital system in Hennepin County court. HCMC soon reversed course, reaching an agreement covering VRI with union representatives Nov. 15.

The VRI agreement gives the Guild unit of more than 125 interpreters momentum as they continue negotiations with HCMC on a new contract, unit chair Santiago Morgan said.

“Fundamentally, we established the principal that if (HCMC) wants to do something like this, they can’t do it without bargaining with the interpreters – because that’s what unions do,” Morgan said.

Interpreters approached Guild leadership with several concerns about VRI, ranging from job security to the quality of service the new technology would allow them to provide.

“We recognize that video can be useful,” Morgan said. “But if you were to ask any of the three participants in the encounter – the provider, the interpreter and, most importantly, the patient – all three would tell you they prefer to have a live interpreter.”

The Guild won work rules to protect interpreters from having to work more than four hours per shift in the VRI call center, and the agreement establishes the right for interpreters to take much-needed breaks between VRI calls, which could come at a breakneck pace if HCMC hooks into a VRI network with hospitals around the country.

“As fatigue sets in, your accuracy just kind of starts to go down the drain,” Morgan said. “If you’re in a long, stressful interpreting session, it’s important to have the right to log off for a few minutes to get gathered again.”

Guild members’ contract with HCMC expires Dec. 31.

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