The Empire Writes Back: A Response to Lionbridge’s “Alan Walsh” – Miguel Llorens

Visit Miguel Llorens’ Financial Translation blog to see this and other posts, as well as many readers’ comments on his continuing coverage of  Lionbridge.
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The Empire Writes Back: A Response to Lionbridge’s “Alan Walsh”
By Miguel Llorens, on November 11th, 2010

Today, my blog received a comment to the post in which I replied to Didier Hélin’s ukase to freelance translators about reducing their rates. It is written by someone who claims to be called “Alan Walsh.” He submitted a reasoned rebuttal of the shellacking Lionbridge has received over the blogosphere during the past week. Crucially, it is the only full-throated defense of Lionbridge, which has been universally decried as a subpar corporate citizen. I released “Alan Walsh’s” contribution immediately in the spirit of fairness, even though the email is clearly a fake address created for the sole purpose of enlightening me (rk45214@yahoo.com). (Although it could be a real name; perhaps “rk45214″ is how they spell “Walsh” in ye olde country, which is presumably Mars.)

However, when I looked up the sender’s IP address out of curiosity: Lo and behold! I copy the results for your viewing pleasure:

(Look it up yourselves if you so desire: http://www.melissadata.com/lookups/iplocation.asp or at http://whois.domaintools.com/)

IP Address Location

IP Address 65.219.216.10

City Framingham

State or Region Massachusetts

Country United States

ISP Lionbridge Technologies.

Really, Lionbridge? Are you seriously that stupid? Lionbridge Technologies didn’t even take the trouble to disguise its IP address. (Dude, are you aware that the Whole Foods guy lost his job because of shenanigans like this and that it prompted an SEC investigation?)

I now proceed to copy the entire message:

Hello,

I thought that the initial post was entertaining, but I don’t understand the need to stigmatize a translation company that keeps several thousand translators busy full time. Although the tone of the request could have been improved, there is nothing wrong with asking providers to make an effort during difficult times:
=> the announcement preceded the company’s Q3 results, which were

Peekaboo!

quite poor. Why refer to the Q2 results, irrelevant at this time?
=> although the company receives revenue in USD and EUR, it outsources mostly in EUR, so the weakening dollar will have a huge impact on its bottom line during Q4
=> large software companies are asking for 10% discounts to all its providers. There is nothing wrong with asking translators that receive work on a regular basis if not full time to temporarily make an effort (this is only a 2 month initiative!). Companies across many other industries are doing the same thing. Lionbridge invests huge amounts to secure business that keeps thousands of translators working.

Granted, the tone of the email could have been improved, but translators can simply choose not to accept the discount…

(Signed: Alan Walsh)

And herewith my reply:

Dear faceless corporate stooge:

May I call you “Alan Walsh”? I’m on a first-name-last-name basis with your colleague Didier Hélin and I think that is how you address each other over at Lionbridge. First of all, thank you for reading my doofy little blog, “Alan Walsh.” I know that it has been very popular in your company, judging from the hundreds of hits from your servers worldwide and the depressing reports about what it is like to work for you.

Permit me also to commend you on your courage, “Alan Walsh.” Anonymity in a person who has nothing to lose by defending his own company certainly highlights the pride you take in working at Lionbridge.

To begin, you ask why there is “the need to stigmatize a translation company that keeps several thousand translators busy full time”?

The stigmatization is partly due to your style, the style in which you both manage your collaborators and the style in which you communicate with them. This style is indicative of a certain way of viewing the entire profession of translation and the industry at large. The communications from your company, of which your anonymous literary exertions are just another shining example, are all of a piece, “Alan Walsh.” They are both impersonal and gauche (you have conceded that somewhat grudgingly). Taken to an extreme, they evince an almost Keystonian degree of incompetence for a company to which major corporations outsource their communications in other languages. When viewed with a more critical eye, however, a far more disturbing issue than simple imbecility rears its ugly head: dishonesty and cynicism.

Let me recap the salient facts of the Didier Hélin Sandwich. It is an astoundingly long series of dick moves which you have just compounded:

1.- A distressing message was sent from a dummy email entitled “IMPORTANT – DO NOT RESPOND.” (Dick move number One.)

2.- It was sent on a Friday afternoon in the Western hemisphere to ensure the longest amount of lag time between its sending and Monday morning, when your Asian collaborators would wake up to find that they had been slimed. (Dick move number Two.)

3.- It was sent during the ATA conference, when a lot of spokespeople would be distracted. (Dick move number Three.)

4.- It clumsily adduced two or three random economic data points that Didier Hélin or his assistant lazily fished out of The Economist to justify a completely arbitrary redefinition of the terms of the labor relationship between you and your contributors. The entire message denotes sloppiness (borne of, again, contempt) in a message that probably made a lot of people feel really bad. (Dick move number Four.)

5.-. A demand of a discount was phrased as a fait accompli. So, yes, it was an offer, as you claim, “Alan Walsh.” An offer like Michael Corleone used to make right before you got the bullet in the eye during a Swedish massage. (Dick move number Five.)

6.- You sent that obscenity to everybody, “Alan Walsh.” Your entire database, which is a massive dark hole encompassing happy freelancers, zombies, mythical creatures, half-real half-imaginary “Alan Walshes” and unsympathetic former providers. You did not even invest the modicum of care necessary to limit the unpleasantness to only the poor souls who actually have to put [up] with you. Not only do you make your own people feel miserable, you were generous enough to share the misery with many other thousands of colleagues, thus instantly becoming the poster child for an industry-wide problem. (Dick move number Six.)

7.- You sent it in 2010. (Dick move number Seven.) While your senior management is spewing hot air about the Web 2.0 and collaboration infrastructure, you’re still handling your corporate communications with the ineffable tact of a nineteenth-century robber baron. You basically got up on a soapbox on Friday while the steelworkers were clocking out and shouted through an old timey blowhorn: “From now on we pay you 5% less! Suck it! See you all on Monday. That is all.” Except now a few dozen of the hapless victims in your database have blogs and several thousand have Facebook accounts. So, this is basically the brave new world of social networking telling you to suck it, “Alan Walsh.”

Now, to reply to your specific objections:

1.- You complain that “this is only a 2 month initiative!”. But the quotes from your CEO clearly state that this is only the beginning. Moreover, how can anyone trust you to make it only a temporary move? The Valentine from Didier Hélin certainly didn’t promise it was temporary. You have no credibility left, “Alan Walsh.”

2.- You allege “that translators can simply choose not to accept the discount.” Call me crazy, but the Didier Hélin candygram was less accommodating. Textually: “we require all our partners to provide a 5% discount on all Lionbridge projects.” To me, that doesn’t sound like an invitation to a square dance. Was Czechoslovakia free to refuse Hitler’s Sudetenland ultimatum? And yes, the freelancers can choose to not accept and cease working from Friday to Monday. But many will inevitably be too scared or at the very least unprepared to object. So it falls upon people who are not dependent upon Lionbridge for its tardy payments to express their feelings openly.

3.- You roll out the tired nostrum about the declining dollar: “Although the company receives revenue in USD and EUR, it outsources mostly in EUR, so the weakening dollar will have a huge impact on its bottom line during Q4.” Once and for all, I would like to ask a few questions: Haven’t you idiots heard of something called currency hedging, “Alan Walsh”? You’re basically saying, “we are completely and utterly unprepared for anything but a rising dollar.” Heard of a thing called strategic planning? OK, OK. You’re not the sharpest crayon in the box (believe me, we’ve established that beyond the shadow of a doubt), but, come on, why should the translators pay for your incompetence?

This leads me to another, nay, THE question: if the dollar rallies versus the euro next year when Greece or Ireland explode like H-Bombs, will you share the proceeds with the translators? “Uh, no way in hell! Papa needs his forex gains!” So, basically, your translators have to share the losses due to your mismanagement but not the windfall profits from random world events.

4.- Which brings me to your final whine: Large software companies are asking for 10% discounts to all its providers. That is the final and ultimate dishonesty. Number one, you are not a software company. You are a monstrously bloated translation agency with a sales department and a handful of software engineers. Rolling out a second-rate CAT tool from the cloud does not make you one. Just as a kid who puts firecrackers on a dog’s tail is not an engineer. I know you want to fool investors into believing that, but you’re not. And a translator is not a vendor. He or she is a freelance provider of services. What you really mean is that your gynormous clients are squeezing you to give them a discount. And you’ve already cut expenses down to the bone, so the only place to keep cutting is the massive expenditure on freelancers. The response from your freelancers should be: And how is that my problem, “Alan Walsh”? Has Didier Hélin taken any pay cuts since this economic thunderstorm began? For that matter, have you, “Alan Walsh”? Of course not.

Reports indicate that you have relentlessly driven down rates since the global meltdown began. The latest slap in the face is only one more chapter in this saga. There is no end in sight to the “new normal.” You think that this is a bottomless well. You want to keep pushing down on that baby. Well, if you’re surprised at the backlash, might I suggest that this is reality telling you that you can’t push down on that lever any further, “Alan Walsh”? That the pebble thrown in the well finally hit rock bottom? In other words, the dreaded time has come when you may actually have to employ people who are not computer literate. Or, alternatively, you may actually have to become more efficient. Or do crazy stuff like adopting better project management practices. Or stop going for the lowest bidder all the time. Or start nurturing your freelance staff and agency partners rather than viewing them as potential cash cows. You know, insane, wacko, out-of-the-box stuff like that.

Which finally brings me to you, “Alan Walsh,” or, to call you by your real name, Dick Move Number Eight. Your anonymous message, your fake email, your lame pseudonym, your brain-dead arguments. Leaving aside the dishonesty of a large corporation using free email accounts to leave positive feedback on itself, there is a more important issue at stake. The common denominator to Didier Hélin’s October surprise, your CEO’s disingenuous replies to analysts and your clumsy comment on my blog is the same: ice cold contempt. You have such a low opinion of other human beings that you didn’t even bother to, at the very least, send this asinine attempt at damage control from your home PC. Because you think someone else wouldn’t know enough to monitor the visitors to his own website. Because you think I don’t know that a “trademark protection” company has been downloading anything and everything from my website and blog. Or that your law firm is sniffing around. (And if you think I’m the least bit intimidated, dude, you are sooooo wrong.) The problem is you think you’re smarter than the rest of humanity. But, believe me, “Alan Walsh,” you’re patently not.

When you’re finally ready to act like a man and use your own name to defend your company, you will be completely welcome to post your ramblings free of censorship.

So, anyway, thank you for your comment. Feel free to drop by at any time (not that I can actually stop you). Wardrobe suggestion: Next time, come as Batgirl or Catwoman. Since you’re into disguises…

Yours truly,

Miguel Llorens

About No Peanuts! for Translators

No Peanuts! supports professional translators & interpreters in demanding & receiving fair pay for their work.
This entry was posted in Resistance. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Empire Writes Back: A Response to Lionbridge’s “Alan Walsh” – Miguel Llorens

  1. So he represents Lionbridge as “translation company that keeps several thousand translators busy full time”?

    That’s an interesting characterization, because if he’s keeping them busy full-time, on an ongoing basis, they might not actually be freelance workers at all. Especially since the world of Lionbridge’s translators seems to be controlled both in terms of how they do it (tools, glossaries, etc.) and the type of relationship they have (freelances get to negotiate, Lionbridge seems to dictate the prices for its staff).

    In other words, I wonder if making that across-the-board pay reduction declaration, Lionbridge may have crossed a fine line between outsourcer & employer. If so (and I don’t know if it was or was not), it would be awfully expensive for them, because while you can enter into any kind of contract you want (just about) with freelance providers, there are significant protections for employees.

    The IRS document about the issue is probably worth a read.

    I wonder if the IRS would reward a disgruntled Lionbridge contractor with a hefty report fee if such a person gave them a tip-off about the massive tax “savings” which is going on if, indeed, the misclassification is as I conjecture above.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out?

    For the record, I have never worked for Lionbridge, and my question about the freelance versus employee situation is based on my lay reading of the IRS link (above). Surely an accountant or attorney could shed some greater light onto the matter. In fact, since Lionbridge is a law abiding company, surely it would want to bring in auditors of its own, to verify that it is indeed in compliance with tax laws. Wouldn’t it?

    • I can’t speak to other countries’ laws, but basically in the US: if you use your own tools (i.e., tools you have bought yourself), control your own work hours, do not physically work on the company’s site, and are free to refuse or accept assignments, you are a freelancer, no matter how many hours you work.

    • Walter Popp says:

      That sure is a very valid proposition, Dena. Hope someone who actually works full time for Liox takes it up.

  2. Malis Reyes says:

    Wonderful reply, Miguel.

  3. LionBridge are not the only company trying to bully their freelancers into accepting lower rates. The following exchange between a Jonckers representative and myself took place between 27 June and 5 July of this year and ended in me severing ties with Jonckers Translation & Engineering company. Luckily, I do not need them to survive. Please note the “Dear Business Partner” at the beginning. To think that they were so pleased with the quality of my work… Thanks a million s*****k!

    <<>>

  4. Jacquie Bridonneau says:

    Way to go Miguel! You sure know how to write a great letter! Let’s hope this keeps circulating.
    FYI – I don’t work for Lionbridge and never will and support the No Peanuts! movement!
    Keep hanging in there!
    Jacquie Bridonneau
    2BTraduction

  5. sopjagung says:

    What happened to Miguel’s blog? Has the Empire decided to play hard ball?

  6. Hi, I just tried to go to Miguel Lloren’s blog to see the latest state of the saga.
    Clicking on the links from here and elsewhere takes me not to Miguel’s blog, but to a “Free Website Builder” called “wix.com”.
    Does this mean that the EMPIRE is on the prowl and that more and more of us will find ourselves redirected?

  7. inkamaria says:

    Freelancers – unite! Stop selling yourself or your quality work short! Stop working for ignorant vendors altogether. I know the market is tough and the financial crisis has hit some of us really hard but I still want to proud of my work and still need to translate in an ethical and professional way – otherwise I might just as well run it thru Google Translator and sell that garbage as quality… If you know what I mean.

  8. Bernie Bierman says:

    Miguel Llorens gets my blessings, although in all fairness I would say that blessings from me may be viewed by some in the translation industry as blessings from the devil himself. Methinks that Sr. Llorens occupies a unique place in the freelance translator community, a community whose more obvious trademarks are meekness and timidity. Indeed, the fictional “Alan Walsh” is a true representation of that timidity and meekness. Clearly, Sr. Llorens has demonstrated a very discernible uniqueness: ONE VERY LARGE PAIR OF COJONES. I would, however, add something here to the overall picture: The problem is not merely limited to rates. The advent and widespread use of and quasi-religious belief in computer-assisted translation (CAT) has raised another issue that is parallel to that of rates and rate levels. For those interested, your attention is invited to:
    http://www.translationcommentator.blogspot.com/

No Peanuts! doesn't pretend to be a representative democracy. We don't publish comments that denigrate our movement, attack our writers, or show disrespect for translators. All comments must be signed with first/last name and include a verifiable email address.

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