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February 6th, 2009
01:51 PM ET

We interrupt this war..for a strike

Suzanne Kelly Simons
CNN Executive Producer

Who goes on strike in a war zone? Interpreters working with the US military in Iraq are mulling it over. What else can you do when your employer, a government contractor, wants to cut your pay for the same work? And that work happens to be in very dangerous parts of Iraq?

In the military, the possibility of a strike might get you thrown in the brig for insubordination, if you're not laughed out of town by your fellow soldiers first. But if you are technically the employee of a corporation hired to provide services to the U.S. government, then it’s a different story.

Interpreters working for Global Linguist Solutions are facing that very question after their company executives asked them to sign modifications to their current contract that would see their pay drop by somewhere between 20-40 percent. I'm told the federal government drastically reduced the size of the contract, and someone has to feel the pain.

Dyncorp sources (GLS is owned in part by DynCorp and McNeil Technologies) say the cuts are being spread across the board, that it’s not just the interpreters taking the cut, but the executives as well, who in this case, happen to be former military men. (GLS' president and CEO is retired General James (Spider) Marks – who also used to work as an analyst for CNN – and Ret. Gens. Barry McCaffrey, Anthony Zinni and Peter Schoomaker serve on its board).

The interpreters at odds with Global Linguist Solutions have been paid well paid for their work. According to the armed forces newspaper Stars & Stripes, interpreters can still make between $108,750 – $175,500 a year in Iraq, even after the pay cut. That’s a whole lot more than the enlisted guys get.

Interpreters argue that they take great risks, and the job isn't changing, so why should the pay? Enter the Iraqi tax inspector.

The Iraqi government is requesting that the interpreter's personal information be turned over to Iraqi authorities for the purposes of tax collection on their income. However, not everyone is so happy about turning over personal information to a government not renowned for security and discretion. (Put more brutally, would providing that information raise the prospect that a hit squad could turn up on your doorstep late one night?) Ah, the problems of a privatized war.

soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Terry

    Can you tell me which is a reputable company to be employed as a arabic liguist? I'm interested in doing this, but I am hearing that there are a lot of scams out there. Can someone tell me more about what is involved if you get picked to do this.....example: the pay, the conditions, what is a work day like? What is expected of us? Is it worth the risk? I'm 61 years old and retired after 33 years at Ford. I'm interested in doing this for the added income for my family. I speak the language fluently (Arabic) but haven't read or written the language since I was a child and my family came to this country when I was 13 years old........thanks for any input

    February 8, 2009 at 3:19 pm |
  2. Matt

    Yeah, and that's not the only group that is taking a pay cut over there. I have heard of up to 30% reduction in some salaries of security specialists working for the big companies in Iraq. Interps are not the only group getting cut, and yet the job is still as dangerous as ever. Matter of fact, the two most dangerous periods of a war, are the beginning and the end. Something to think about, before pay is messed with, and you start losing good people because of it.

    With the interps, I think that handing over personal info to the Iraqi gov is questionable. This transition is a tough thing to trust, and Iraq needs to prove that it is secure enough not to abuse this information, or lose control of it and have it fall into the hands of those that would certainly kill interps and their families. Obviously these interps do not trust that process, and the Iraqi government needs to work on that.

    Besides, interps should be treated with the utmost respect over there, because they will certainly be vital in schools and universities, and for communicating with Western businesses.

    February 8, 2009 at 12:35 pm |
  3. laine

    the linquists in iraq are a vital part of the military operations over there. without them, our military would be in some real trouble. these are citizens that raised their hands and said-–yes i will do what i can to help serve my country. these are not soldiers, they are not armed or trained to be in the middle of a war. but they are side by side with our soldiers on a daily basis, while ours soldiers are out patrolling and engaging with the enemy. how about you going over there and putting yourself in harms way every hour of every day? would you like to sleep in a tent with 50 or so other guys? or if you're lucky you may have a "chu". a containerized housing unit. and it is just that. a shipping container with some electricity. wow nice accommodations huh? and you can eat mre's with the soldiers and eat and breathe and sleep in sand (which gets into everything and everywhere) and then let me know if they deserve the pay they are getting? and like the soldiers they don't get to go home to their families every day. they are alone and so are their loved ones. the soldiers and their families get medical for free and they have support groups to help them deal with the stresses of their husbands and fathers being gone. soldiers families get with help with housing expenses and they are protected under the SCRA. these men and woman who go over there as linquists don't have any help of any sort. their families and they are in limbo, trying to deal with a very tough situation alone. i say-you go and you take a huge paycut and still be on call 24hrs a day 7 days a week. and you still go to sleep each night thanking the good Lord you survived one more day. but you won't because you haven't got the guts or the knowledge to do what these people are doing for you every damn day.

    February 8, 2009 at 11:21 am |
  4. Annie Kate

    Have we ever paid taxes to a country we have invaded before? If the Iraqis can tax the contractors what's to stop them from taxing our military? I'd tell them to go jump off a bridge that our people aren't paying taxes for them – we've already paid with enough lives.

    February 6, 2009 at 7:08 pm |
  5. jarrod

    i guess you train the troops to speak the language

    February 6, 2009 at 4:08 pm |
  6. Linda B., Ga.

    Send the Contract Interpreters back home, if they don't want to do their job! They are still making a heck of alot more then most Americans are back at home.

    February 6, 2009 at 3:58 pm |
  7. Tired of the GOP Games

    Support Our Troops. You Have Increases In Suicides in The Military. You Have Soldiers Who cannot get proper medical coverage or assistance when they come home. None should be foreclosed on. They risked their lives for our country. They should never lose their homes. I want every soldier to receive high benefits, quick action for their needs and we should appreciate them everytime we meet the soldiers. We cannot repay them for all that they sacrificed for us, but I am thankful that our First Lady is on their side. It will take time, and they need support and brain power to assist, not attacks and criticism. Show your Patriotism by helping Obama, not fighting with him. Do you hear that Republican GOPs. You were elected because people believed you were smart enough to help and assist with this Stimulus. Complaining we can do on our own. People believed you had more to offer than that. Show America that electing any Republicans was not a waste of their time and a waste of space. Your jobs are not guaranteed. This Stimulus Is For The People, Not Wall Street, Executives, or Big Oil. If You Could Not Help, Then You Should Resign Your Position !!! This Is A 911. You Need To Get It Done Now !!!!

    February 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm |