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Flight paramedics and other first responders form union with AFSCME

Photo Credit: ShandsCair Critical Care Transport Program
By Anna Dang and Nat Bender, AFSCME Florida ·

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – First responders at the University of Florida (UF) Health Shands Hospital have voted unanimously to form a union with AFSCME Florida Council 79.

This unit of health care first responders, which includes 84 flight paramedics, ground paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers, voted last week.

They formed their union to improve safety conditions, ensure adequate training and raise compensation to industry standards. Many of the workers had also experienced the union difference in previous jobs or heard from their co-workers at Shands about how forming a union through AFSCME would improve their lives on the job.

Flight paramedics work on board helicopters, serving patients in North Florida and beyond.

“We land on highways when there is an automobile wreck, go get someone on an ECMO machine when COVID-19 has compromised their heart and lung function and even fly to Mexico or the Caribbean to rescue American citizens who have medical emergencies on their travels,” said Scott Coker, a 15-year veteran. “We do international hauling for people on their death beds and pick up transports that critical care facilities refuse to do because only we have knowledge and expertise to do them effectively.”

Despite their expertise, Coker pointed out that they remain underpaid in comparison with other local first responders and health care workers.

AFSCME Florida President and AFSCME Vice President Vicki Hall congratulated the dedicated first responders on their efforts to gain a voice on the job through their union.

“These brave first responders are showing their commitment to their patients, their careers and their families by voting to unionize,” said Hall. “Public awareness of the union difference in pay, benefits, safety and security is increasing and this overwhelming show of support for forming a union sends a strong message that front-line workers must be respected and valued for their immeasurable contributions.”  

Coker said he and his fellow paramedics deserve to be recognized for the unique role they play in Florida’s health care system.

“It’s a calling that attracts a very dynamic bunch of people who get asked to do things that are very much out of the norm for the sickest population in the U.S.,” Coker said. “We have voted to form a union to bargain with the corporate office to recognize our skills and expertise with a fair contract and pay increases.” 

AFSCME Florida’s newest members will now focus on bargaining their first contract.

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