Pittsfield, Massachusetts has unveiled a new additional compensation scheme for bilingual employees.
Tuesday night, the city council approved an amendment to Pittsfield’s codes that will put more money in the pockets of employees who speak Spanish, Russian, French, Portuguese and American Sign Language.
“We actually, about I want to say maybe two or three years ago actually, updated the list of eligible proficient languages that we would compensate our public safety officers for based on data we collected I believe from the Berkshire Immigration Center at the time," said Michael Taylor, Pittsfield’s Director of Human Resources. “These were the top five languages spoken here in our Pittsfield community.”
He says the new plan expands an existent bilingual proficiency stipend for public safety officers to other city employees.
“We had really seen a need for this, considering the diverse population we serve here in Pittsfield and realized that providing such services is really a benefit to our constituency.”
Now, any city employee who can pass a written and verbal exam in one of the languages is eligible for the extra pay if they’ve worked for the city for a full year. Oral fluency or reading and written fluency will see employees receive $125 a month, while being capable in both fields will net $175 a month.
The vote came the same night that the council heard Mayor Linda Tyer respond to questions on a petition from Councilors Helen Moon and Patrick Kavey of Wards 1 and 5, respectively, calling on the city to provide Spanish translations for all mailed communications, notices and the city’s website.
“It looks like the Police Department and the Fire Department all have Spanish speakers and the city is working on other areas," said Moon. "It looks like there are certain departments that use Spanish and other languages for provided selected materials, which is great.”
Tyer’s response to the petition identified the Office of Community Development, City Clerk, Berkshire Athenaeum and Veteran's Office as offering selected materials and resources in Spanish.
“My question is in terms of CodeRED and the certified mail that goes out to the city – if those things would be translated into Spanish or if you would be willing to translate those areas as well,” Moon asked.
“We are certainly committed to continuing to expand the languages that we are offering both for the things that we mail," responded Tyer. "I hadn’t thought about CodeRED, we’d have to explore that to see if CodeRED has that feature as part of their technology.”
Pittsfield’s website describes CodeRED as a web-based system provided by Emergency Communications Network that alerts citizens by phone, text and email messages in the case of an emergency.
“What I can say also is that if CodeRED doesn’t have a feature which allows us to translate a message into Spanish, we do have a fluent Spanish speaker in the city’s Office of Community Development who could provide a Spanish translation as a CodeRED recording,” said Tyer.
According to Taylor, that employee is Heni Harvender.
“This employee also has provided Spanish translation when we’ve had citizens come into city hall who try to engage in business in various departments, not just with the Office of Community Development," continued the mayor. "This employee has been very generous with her translation, and has provided a lot of assistance to residents when they come in and there’s a language barrier.”
Data from Census.gov indicates that around 6.4% of Pittsfield’s roughly 42,000 residents – or around 2,700 people – identify as Hispanic or Latinx. Tyer also said that after the review of language accessibility prompted by Moon and Kavey’s petition, the city’s IT Department has added Google Translate to Pittsfield’s website.