The Workforce: Introducing our new series on city employees

What do your taxes pay for? It's Our Money is getting to know some of the 25,000 people who provide city services in Philadelphia, to find out what they do, how much they get paid, and how their work affects you.

Who: Frank Rivera-Cruz, Court Interpreter and Supervisor


Salary range for position: $46,313-$59,538

Frank Rivera-Cruz learned Spanish from his parents, and English from Philadelphia.

He came to Philly from Puerto Rico at age 8, but his parents always spoke Spanish at home. His second language evolved in Kensington, Fairmount and South Philly.

This made a job as an interpreter in the city's court system a perfect fit for him as a young man back in 1976.

When Rivera-Cruz began, the courts were beginning to phase out informal use of interpreters. But family members or bilingual sheriffs or court clerks still sometimes translated for defendants and witnesses in the courtroom.

"In those days, we didn't have a certification program," Rivera-Cruz says. "We didn't have the rules that we have now. We didn't have rules as interpreters."

What he does

Interpreters are responsible for making sure defendants, witnesses and others understand what's going on – even if translating everything a defendant says makes Rivera-Cruz cringe at times.

"There are times when they start saying things and I'm going, 'I can't believe they said that,' and the judge reacts accordingly," Rivera-Cruz says.

Different interpreters are assigned to the Common Pleas, Municipal and Family courts. This allows each court to have interpreters with expertise in its system.

Rivera-Cruz oversees the three Spanish interpreters in Common Pleas. Spanish is the only language with an in-house team (the city contracts out for others) due to Philly's high population of Hispanics and Latinos – 12.3 percent, including 110,498 Spanish speakers who speak English "less than well."

How he lives

Now entering his 35th year as a city employee, Rivera-Cruz is enrolled in DROP and is less than two years from retirement. He long ago reached the maximum salary for his position, but says he can't complain.

After all, Rivera-Cruz is comfortable: Though he opted for a new roof rather than a vacation this summer, he's entertaining the idea of visiting Puerto Rico for his next birthday.

"I don't regret having worked here,” Rivera-Cruz says, adding that he has always been appreciative of his health benefits, pension and vacation time while working for the city.

"I only have a high school degree and a few college credits, so considering my situation, it was just right for me."