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Minnesota court interpreters have suspended their work stoppage after seven weeks, saying they will now focus on collaborating with legislators, along with the state's judicial branch and judicial council, to try to increase their pay and improve working conditions.

Certified Spanish interpreter Marjorie Evans-de-Carpio said the group had garnered support from the judicial system, national organizations and lawmakers, and that they had succeeded in making their important role visible.

"What we need to do is work with the Legislature … if we do not see progress, we keep open the option to make a stoppage again in the future, but as of now it didn't seem like the right tactic any longer," said Evans-de-Carpio, of Lake Benton, Minn.

Court interpreters began their work stoppage on Jan. 8 to protest inadequate compensation and other issues. Interpreters were paid $50 per hour in 1997, and after decades of stalled pay a new policy increased their rate from $56 to $65 this year — a raise interpreters say still drastically fails to keep up with inflation. To have the same purchasing power they did 25 years ago, interpreters had asked the courts to raise their pay to $95 per hour. Interpreters work as independent contractors who receive no benefits, and typically are granted no more than 20 hours a week.

State Court Administrator Jeff Shorba initially responded to the interpreters that the courts would ask for $1.525 million to increase interpreter pay in this winter's legislative session. As the stoppage dragged on, the court rescheduled many hearings, though it said it was prioritizing those involving people in custody.

On Feb. 9, Shorba and Seventh Judicial District Judge Michelle Lawson, who is also vice chair of the Minnesota Judicial Council, met with three court interpreters. A court spokesperson said in an email that Shorba and Lawson explained the Minnesota Judicial Branch's legislative budget request and why the branch cannot raise contract court interpreter payment rates unless it receives the allocation.

"The meeting also included a lengthy discussion about working toward presenting a united front at the Legislature to lobby for the budget request," spokeswoman Kim Pleticha said in the email.

The interpreters are also pushing to reinstate an interpreter advisory committee that was dissolved years ago, a move that would have to be approved by the judicial council.

As more foreign-born people move to Minnesota, state courts have seen a dramatic rise in the need for interpreters: 46,622 court hearings required a foreign language interpreter in 2022, a 77% increase since 2012. The court said it has 85 active, certified interpreters, most of them for Spanish, followed by Russian and Hmong speakers.