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.
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