Language Access

Information
The City of Portland is responsible for taking reasonable steps to provide equitable and meaningful access to it programs, services, activities, and communications to members of the public who have limited English proficiency and experience institutional language barriers.
On this page

Language Pay Differential Policy

On December 16, 2020, Portland City Council unanimously passed Resolution No. 37525 to authorize a language pay differential policy to compensate qualifying multilingual City employees who use their language skill to assist the community. This policy is in alignment with our City of Portland Core Values, Citywide Racial Equity Goals and Strategies, Citywide Language Access Standards, and the City’s goal to be an employer of choice.

Language is a major barrier for the public in accessing City programs, services, activities, and communications. This has been abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic as immigrant and refugee community members expressed difficulty in accessing vital information in their languages. Approximately 50,000 multicultural community members who live in the City of Portland service area self-identify as limited English proficient.

One of the goals of the language pay differential policy is to increase equitable access to government for linguistically and culturally diverse community members. As we strive to be a more inclusive, multicultural institution serving the public equitably, increasing the number of different languages spoken by City staff to serve the public demonstrates a proactive effort to comply with civil rights obligations to reduce institutional language barriers and increase meaningful access to government programs, services, activities, and communications.

Multilingual City of Portland employees are currently providing language assistance to the public without being compensated, and this is a workplace equity issue that needs to be rectified. This policy also supports the City of Portland’s adopted commitment to be an “Employer of Choice” in attracting, developing, and retaining a diverse, culturally informed workforce.

For a year and half, a policy team with representatives from different City bureaus led the development of the language pay differential policy. Primary policy development activities included internal and external stakeholder engagement; including researching local jurisdictions, such as Multnomah County, City of Gresham, and Hillsboro, and State of Oregon, who already provide a language pay differential to their employees. Thank you to the city employees (Diverse Empowered Employees of Portland or DEEP affinity groups) that were part of the internal stakeholder engagement of the policy development process.

The Office of Equity and Human Rights, Bureau of Human Resources, and City Budget Office have collaborated on the policy implementation plan. The policy shall be implemented for the FY 2021-22 fiscal year beginning on July 1, 2021.

Please be on the lookout for a Citywide employee survey that will collect data from staff responses to provide an estimate of the number of employees who could be eligible to test for the language pay differential. Ultimately, with a successful passing score these employees would be compensated for their language skills and services.

We understand there may be many questions regarding this policy. For additional information that may contain the answers to your questions, and to learn about the year and a half long policy process, please see list of resources below:

Council adopts policy (video)

Council work session (video)

Learn more about Language Pay Differential

Why institute a Language Pay Differential?

  • According to most recent data from the U.S. Census, 19.4% (well over 117,000 people 5 yrs. and over) of Portland's population speaks a language other than English at home, and  8.1%  (well over 49,000 people 5 yrs. and over) of the city's population speak English less than “very well.”
  • Language is a major barrier for the public in accessing basic City benefits/services and exercising important rights. This has been abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic as immigrant and refugee community members expressed difficulty in accessing vital information in the language they could understand. One of the goals of instituting the language pay differential policy is to increase equitable access to government for linguistically and culturally diverse community members served by the City of Portland. As we strive to be a more inclusive, multicultural institution serving the public equitably, increasing the number of different languages spoken by City staff to serve the public, demonstrates a proactive effort to comply with institutional civil rights obligations to reduce institutional language barriers and increase access to government programs, services, activities, and information.
  • Increasing the number of staff who can connect with the public whose primary language is not English and thus experience institutional language barriers, and paying them for the skills they bring to the workforce also demonstrates commitment to compliance with Title VI national origin non-discrimination obligations (refer to Appendix A).
  • Many local governments such as Multnomah County, the City of Hillsboro and the City of Gresham, already offer language pay differential. This policy supports the City of Portland’s adopted commitment to be an “Employer of Choice” in attracting, developing and retaining a diverse, culturally competent, and fully engaged workforce.
  • A language-based phone survey conducted as part of the City of Portland’s development of a new 311 Program found that 66% of respondents, Portland residents who primarily spoke Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese, had never contacted the City and cited language barriers as the top reason. The proposed policy supports the desired outcomes of the 311 Program to provide more equitable customer service and to hire diverse program staff who reflect Portland’s community, including those who speak Spanish, Russian and other common languages in Portland.
  • Multilingual City of Portland employees are currently providing language assistance to the public without being compensated for it. This is a workplace equity issue that needs to be rectified. As an employer of choice, we must show we value the level of competency and social capital multilingual employees bring to the City of Portland.

What was the process to develop the policy?

After determining that no efforts were underway to develop a language pay differential policy, an internal multi-bureau work group was established. Work group activities included:

  • Focus groups with bilingual City employees
  • Online survey of multilingual City employees
  • Informal interviews with local jurisdictions that already have a language pay differential policy
  • Review of existing City Labor Agreements
  • Research of language proficiency testing agencies
  • Meetings with a number of stakeholders such as the New Portlanders Policy Commission, Bureau of Human Resources, Labor Representatives, and the 311 Program Lead
  • Consultation with the City Attorney’s Office
  • Work to align with Citywide language access standards and Employer of Choice goals.

What is the proposed language pay differential benefit?

Multilingual City of Portland employees who qualify for the benefit will receive an additional $1.00 per hour to their base salary. The benefit is only paid on hours worked, it does not apply to vacation time, sick time, and is suspended while employees are on leave.

How does a City employee qualify for the language pay differential benefit?

There are three pathways for designating a position that benefits from a language skill and is eligible for the language pay differential:

  1. Positions that are public facing, customer service, community engagement, field work, or community outreach, at a minimum should be designated citywide as benefiting from a language skill and be eligible for the language pay differential. Examples include but are not limited to: 311 staff (previously Information and Referral), bureau Customer Service staff, Police/Fire/911 staff, Park Rangers, community engagement/outreach staff, Civic Life, Office of Equity, employees staffing Emergency Coordination Center, bureau Equity Managers and teams.

  2. Managers assign additional positions that they have identified as benefiting from a language skill, based on community need. The Bureau of Human Resources and Office of Equity and Human Rights will be involved in the designation of the positions benefiting from multilingual employees.

  3. We are also proposing an employee-initiated pathway for consideration of the language pay differential. Employees submit a form to the Office of Equity and Human Rights for the consideration of the language pay differential. The form will ask the employee to describe in narrative form how their language skill removes barriers for community and brings value to the institution. The employee’s usage of their language skill would be evaluated through performance review processes with their manager.(Pathway three’s implementation date is not July 1st and is to be determined, while the process is developed)

All job types may be considered for the language pay differential including seasonal, non-represented, represented, limited term, and returning retiree. Employees must pass a verbal proficiency test administered by an external testing agency contracted through the City. Testing requirements are outlined in the next section.

What are the testing requirements?

  • To be eligible for the language pay differential benefit, multilingual City of Portland employees must demonstrate a professional working spoken proficiency in the specified language(s) as verified by a proficiency test.

  • The Bureau of Human Resources will provide central support for the testing process.

  • The City of Portland will contract with an external testing agency that will administer the proficiency test. Most tests are done online or over the phone; in-person testing is also an option. Test results will then move to the next phase with the Bureau of Human Resources.

  • At their three-year anniversary with the language pay differential benefit, employees who wish to retain their pay differential must retest and pass to continue receiving the benefit.

  • All employees, including those who are retesting to continue their benefit, who fail their test are encouraged to retest after 6 months or upon completion of a training program (documentation of training completion required), whichever comes first.

  • If the employee fails more than twice, they are responsible for paying for future costs of tests out of their own pocket and taking the test on their own personal time.

What are the implications of the language pay differential on represented City employees?

  • The Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) obligates public employers to bargain with their public employee unions over “employment relations” (typically referred to as mandatory subjects of bargaining). Employment relations includes, but is not limited to, “matters concerning direct or indict monetary benefits.”

    • Because the proposed language pay differential impacts employee wages, the City must give notice of the proposed policy to the unions and negotiate with the unions should they demand to bargain.

    • For unions that have existing contracts, bargaining is limited to a maximum of 90 days before the City can implement the language pay differential for strike-permitted employees; the City would have to go to interest arbitration for strike-prohibited bargaining units.

    • For unions currently in successor negotiations, such as DCTU and PPA, bargaining over the language pay differential would be folded into successor negotiations, which must be conducted for a minimum of 150 days.

How much will the language pay differential cost and who pays?

The largest determinant of policy cost is the scale of employee participation in the program and benefit. The City of Portland does not currently collect data on employees’ language abilities, so there is no definite way to calculate the number of employees eligible to receive the proposed benefit. With this limitation, the City Budget Office (CBO) drew from different available sources such as existing bureau employee language capabilities surveys, the Information & Referral program, and participation rates of other jurisdictions with language pay differential policies to inform their budget analysis of the language pay differential policy. CBO estimated a broad range of City employee participation of 3% to 25% which translates into an estimated cost of $450,390 to $3,753,247 in a given fiscal year.

  • Each bureau will need to conduct their own analysis of the cost of the new language pay differential benefit and budget for it. The City Council could consider adding to bureau CAL targets in the annual Budget process based on bureau-specific utilization of the benefit.

The data collected through the tracking requirements of the Language Access Resolution passed by City Council on November 12, 2020 will help bureaus demonstrate the language needs of community in accessing their bureau’s services and inform budgeting.

  • Each bureau is also responsible for paying the fees associated with testing. Typically, tests cost approximately $60 - $150.

What level of service are qualifying multilingual employees expected to provide?

Qualifying bilingual or multilingual city employees would function as a language link while they assist the community member experiencing institutional language barriers in connecting to a professional language service provider, either in the form of telephonic interpreter, video remote interpreter, or on-site, in-person interpreter. The decision on whether to use the bilingual City staff as a language link is a crucial decision point that must be critically assessed based on the type of contact with the limited English proficient (LEP) community member (refer to Appendix A for definition of LEP).
A professional language service provider, such as an interpreter, must be contacted when there could be:

  • Safety implications
  • Health implications
  • Legal implications
  • Financial impacts
  • Notices of rights and disciplinary action

In these cases, accuracy and confidentiality are especially essential.

The employee may choose to serve as a language link until a professional language service provider can be reached or may opt to continue to assist the community member, with the exception of the above criteria. Serving as a language link means the employee provides customer service in the community member’s language of preference until they link them to a professional language service provider.
At any point in the interaction, the community member has the right to request a professional interpreter, or translator, if they are requesting a written translation, at no cost to them, according to their civil rights.
Qualifying employees are not required to do any written translation work. If employees choose to do any written translation, they should limit these jobs to short page, sentence or tagline. Any translation created by an employee must have a quality check by another employee who has passed the language test to ensure accuracy as much as possible. All other translation jobs, especially those with legal implications, must submitted to translation service.
This level of service complies with the citywide Language Access Program’s standard operating procedures.

When are we proposing that this policy take effect?

If passed by Council, we propose the policy go into effect on July 1, 2021 to allow the Bureau of Human Resources and the Office of Equity and Human Rights to establish the necessary systems and protocols to administer the new language pay differential benefit and to provide ample time to educate managers/supervisors and employees about the new policy.

APPENDIX A

Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

Limited English Proficiency (LEP) refers to “Individuals who do not speak English as their primary language and who have a limited ability to read, speak, write, or understand English can be limited English proficient, or "LEP." These individuals may be entitled language assistance with respect to a service, benefit, or encounter.” (Source: lep.gov)

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the Act) is a fundamental piece of federal legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in federally funded programs, services and activities. Title VI has also been implemented to require that persons with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to programs, services, and activities; and that decision-making processes are designed to avoid, minimize or mitigate disproportionately adverse environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on communities of color and low-income populations.

Other federal, state and city legislation prohibit discrimination based on disability, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or source of income.
To be compliant with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the City must ensure that no persons shall be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination in any City program, service or activity on the grounds of race, religion, color, national origin, English proficiency, sex, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or source of income. The City of Portland also requires its contractors and grantees to comply with this policy.

Contact

Equity and Language Access Analyst

Tatiana Elejalde