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Deaf Vee Journal recently collected anonymous stories from current and former Convo interpreters and staff over the course of five days: two were from Glassdoor reviews, and the other eight were incognito submissions on an online Google docs link. The purpose of the survey was to provide a safe space for current and former staff to express their thoughts, triumphs, and concerns as interpreters for Convo Communications.
This past Monday on July 12, Deaf Vee Journal was in contact with Convo via e-mail and submitted some questions for them. Convo confirmed that they received our questions on the same day. As of today, July 15, Convo has not gotten back to us in regard to any of our questions. Our questions are attached below in a PDF file for transparency. We will create a separate, follow-up article on Convo’s perspective if and when we hear back from Convo.
With that said, the anonymous interpreters insist it is still important for the Deaf community to see what is really happening behind closed doors at Convo Communications that brands itself as being “Deaf-centric,” as they say they have repeatedly raised concerns about the same issues that have come up over the past two years, issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened. These are their stories, categorized by issue, with a few key points each. The original submissions are also available below for you to view as a PDF file.
Altogether, the overall message seems to be that Convo only cares about their own profits, the interpreters be damned. One current interpreter who has been there for five years wrote this in their Glassdoor submission, dated July 11, 2021: “Don’t tell me I’ve made you almost 3 million dollars this month as you take everything away from me” (Submission 10). Another current interpreter commented: “‘Deaf first, at the expense of the interpreter’ is a better way of saying what Convo stands for” (Submission 6).
Issue 1: No Interpreter Support
Seven of the ten testimonials submitted say that interpreters do not feel supported or valued at the company. Interpreters are overworked to the point of exhaustion, without the ability to have a healthy work-life balance, and they are in survival mode.
- It has been over a year and half into the pandemic, the platform is still “outdated” and “glitchy” with inadequate features in supporting interpreters to do their best work—for example, the platform does not have a “virtual teaming function” for calls longer than 20 minutes. Promises to update the platform over the years have gone unfulfilled (submissions 1-2 & 9).
- Interpreters have repeatedly asked to add in a buffer between calls, and this has yet to happen (submissions 2-3). Right now, when one call ends, the next call starts right away—“not even time to take a drink of water” (submission 3). One participant stated that management did respond to the interpreters’ concerns for the lack of a buffer, but their response still did not show consideration for the wellness of interpreters (submission 3).
- There are some concerns of platform hopping between CAV [the Canada Administrator of Video Relay Services] and the U.S., the code switching takes a “great deal of energy” plus switching platforms and the logging process for the matrix can negatively impact the interpreters’ performance metrics (submission 9).
Issue 2: Lack of Consistency
Six of the ten submissions share the common theme that major changes are happening so often that there is a lack of consistency on what interpreters can expect from executive management and leadership.
- Weekly updates, center/team meetings, and “new ICD trainings” also stopped altogether, even though there were several important changes happening regularly, and interpreters were left without “a space to stay informed or express themselves” (submissions 2 & 9-10).
- The closures of call centers have been in the planning for several months, and yet Convo provides last-minute notices to the on-site call center interpreters, putting them through stress to figure out what to do next (submissions 8-10). One current interpreter said, “You must go into work today prepared to no longer have a job tomorrow.”
Issue 3: Violation of Ethics
Five submissions cited ongoing ethical violations on Convo’s part, especially violations that go against the Code of Professional Conduct.
- On several occasions, Convo actively promoted the use of their VRS interpreters for conference calls, K-12 and college classes, and other gatherings on Zoom for which the said interpreters may not be qualified without first checking in for a dialogue with the interpreters (submissions 9-10). “This is an injustice to the Deaf community and abuse of the interpreters,” one interpreter said (submission 1). A second interpreter elaborated, “The VRS should not replace on-site or VRI interpreters, which 75% of those Zoom calls need. We are constantly interpreting K-12 classes for Deaf faculty or Deaf parents, which is a huge burden on the interpreters with no compensation” (submission 7).
- Management keeps COVID-19 outbreaks in the call centers “on the down low,” so they bypass having to close the centers for cleaning and sanitization over a proper amount of time (i.e., cleaning, sanitization) for everyone’s safety (submission 10). The lack of transparency on management’s end about outbreaks leads to more COVID-19 cases among interpreters, and yet management sends out e-mails rebuking interpreters for getting sick with COVID-19 and “causing additional stress on ‘the team’” instead of focusing on staffing needs (submission 10).
Issue 4: Poor Compensation
Of the ten submissions, four included poor pay. Convo pays below market rate in comparison to other VRS companies (the lowest in the industry), and yet incentives and differentials have been thrown out, holiday pay was cut even although working on holidays are mandated, interpreters get hit with pay cuts, and the annual pay raises (which were small to begin with) seem to have been discontinued (submissions 1-2, 6, 9). The more hours the interpreter commits to Convo, the more cuts in pay they get (submissions 1 & 6). One former Call Center Manager stated that Call Center Managers are expected to work on company-recognized holidays and lose the opportunity of having paid holidays off (submission 2). One interpreter shared that Convo’s reasoning behind the pay cuts was to “offset [the cost of providing] benefits” (submission 1).
Issue 5: High Turnover
Four submissions share concerns about the ongoing high turnover rate at all levels within the interpreting division. Senior employees have left abruptly, and interpreters are “mass applying to Sorenson and waiting for onboarding to be complete before leaving” (submission 1). One former Call Center Manager shared that “in the span of four months, six members of management left the VI Operations team” and four of the six left Convo entirely. The turnover rate is so high that even interpreters “cannot keep up with changes and keep track of who is in charge” and there is “no stability” (submissions 7-8).
Issue 6: No Transparency
Four participants point that Convo often talks about transparency and yet transparency is lacking throughout the chain of command, impacting frontline interpreters (submissions 3, 5, 9-10).
- Convo has instructed interpreters that they are not allowed to provide information on whether they are certified or not to Deaf callers, even if the call involves medical treatment or legal issues (submission 3).
- One interpreter previously worked at Convo full-time for three years before having to change their work status, and they immediately signed themselves up for the full-time status waitlist while working part-time. After months of waiting, the interpreter was notified in April that they were approved for a full-time position. Excited, the interpreter quit their full-time position at another job in preparation for their full-time job at Convo starting May… only to be told a week later that their new full-time status was “an approval mistake” based on a management decision and not a HR decision, and they can continue to work part time. The interpreter suddenly found themselves out of full-time work with no benefits during a pandemic, a recent home purchase, and an upcoming wedding, and they did not receive any answers or support for the questions and situation they were in (submission 5).
- Another interpreter said that there are no clear steps of action with the Human Resources department or upper-level leadership when interpreters bring up concerns and, “due to the lack of correspondence and lack of retaliation, VIs [VRS interpreters] stopped reporting [their concerns]” (submission 9).
Issue 7: Benefits? Not All Good.
Three participants observed some issues with Convo’s benefits, some impacting interpreters in general and others having a personal effect in individual cases.
- One participant said that administrative staff are allowed six weeks paid at 100% of their salary and another six weeks paid at 40% of their salary for a total of twelve weeks, but full-time interpreters don’t get the same benefits and instead have to use their earned paid time-off for up to six weeks of having their child (submission 3). In other words, the administration can get up to use the bathroom at any given moment if they need to deal with postpartum hygiene…but it’s not so easy for the interpreters because they’re having to follow the calls (submission 3).
- A second participant shared, “These benefits that they [Convo] brag about are prohibitively expensive because they choose to partner with a Deaf owned, overpriced broker” (submission 6).
- The third participant remarked that Convo took their hours and benefits away for a policy they didn’t know “was going to be put back into place,” and they lost their health insurance in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic (submission 4).
Issue 8: Limited Transfer Options
Three participants said Convo does not allow interpreters to transfer calls in situations where a transfer would be necessary or reasonable (Submissions 2-3 & 6).
- One person said, “A Deaf caller should have the right to transfer to a different interpreter. If that Deaf caller states, ‘Transfer to BIPOC interpreter,’ we are not allowed to transfer. Interpreters have told callers, ‘I can go ahead and transfer to a different interpreter but I cannot guarantee that interpreter will be BIPOC, but we can try.’ Those interpreters were told that is wrong and they are not allowed to transfer because BIPOC is not a button. If that deaf caller would have said, ‘different interpreter,’ then it would have been permitted, but because the deaf caller used, “BIPOC” it is no longer allowed. The deaf person said too much” (submission 3).
- Another person said that interpreters are not allowed to transfer the call to another interpreter if they are uncomfortable with interpreting for particular users, and Call Center Managers don’t seem to be receptive to feedback (submission 6).
Issue 9: No Valid Tracking System
Two of the anonymous participants stated that Convo’s tracking system for interpreters’ performance is so poorly done that interpreters are being reprimanded by their managers without valid justification (submissions 8 & 10).
- One interpreter shared that management could not give actual data—only percentages—and this was a thorn in the side for many interpreters who were doing CAV calls for Canada. When doing CAV calls, Convo would count that as “one and half hours late for work,” for example. A second instance is if an interpreter was in a meeting they were required to attend and it ran over the break limits, they’d be later told they were late coming back from break (submission 8).
- A second interpreter wrote that if there are technical issues happening with the system or reboots are needed, it counts against the interpreters’ “efficiency numbers” and the “time off” during those incidents has to come from the interpreters’ “break time” because there is “no way to log out under a tech[nical] issue label.”
Issue 10: Poor Working Conditions
One anonymous participant expressed concerns about the poor working conditions that interpreters are subjected to at the call centers: “The call centers are poorly kept. The working cubes have harsh side lighting that some non-interpreter think tank came up with, the lighting was so bad most interpreters did not use it and it went to waste. If the interpreters did use it, they ran the risk of headaches and eye strain. The facilities where the interpreters work has poor ventilation, and any chemical work in adjacent offices (new rugs, painting etc.) leeches into the interpreting space. The locked inner interpreting area is so stuffy that working in there for a full-time staff can be stifling” (submission 7).
What was just shared are the top 10 issues found in the anonymous stories that current and former Convo interpreters and staff have submitted, and a follow-up article will be released highlighting specific solutions they would want to see from Convo.