UF Health Shands Hospital’s Flight Paramedics, Dispatchers Form Union

UF Health Shands Hospital’s Flight Paramedics, Dispatchers Form Union 

Gainesville – Flight and ground paramedics, along with dispatchers who work for UF Health Shands to respond to those in need around north Florida, and even internationally, voted unanimously to form a union with AFSCME Florida on Tuesday, August 30. The health care first responders are focused on improving the safety of their working conditions, ensuring adequate training and raising compensation to industry standards.  

On a daily basis, the flight paramedics may be boarding a helicopter to navigate territory from Pensacola to the Villages and far beyond, according to Scott Coker, a 15-year veteran of the 84-member unit.  

“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 Coker.  

The election, run and certified by the National Labor Relations Board’s Tampa office, included all full-time and regular part-time Paramedics Flight, Paramedics Ground Transport, Paramedics, Ground EMT/Drivers and ShandsCair Comm Specialists. Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics Inc., is a private, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation affiliated with the University of Florida. 

Flight paramedic John East said he heard something impactful from a veteran flight paramedic 15 years ago that characterizes the team's commitment to patients. “When you are with us, we are going to treat you like one of our own,” East said. East joined the flight paramedic program nine years ago. 

East said, “Unionizing is a way for the ground teams and flight teams to support each other, pool our ideas and collaborate with leadership toward a safer, happier and ultimately more effective and empowered unit. Our program prides itself on staying at the cutting edge and leading medical innovation. There is no reason that shouldn’t be reflected in compensation and investment in our goals."

AFSCME Florida President and International Vice President Vicki Hall congratulated the dedicated first responders on their efforts to gain a protected 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. “As we approach Labor Day, 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 frontline workers must be respected and valued for their immeasurable contributions.”   

While the workers navigate the dangers and stress of helicopter flight, Coker pointed out that they remain underpaid in comparison with other local first responders and health care workers.  

“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 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.” 

Coker said, "Our Paramedics have immense knowledge bases and extensive professional development continuing education, but we are not being treated with the respect we deserve and the longer we work here, the greater our pay disparity grows. 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. 


Representing 100,000 workers across the Sunshine State, the hardworking men and women of AFSCME make Florida happen every day. One of the state’s fastest growing unions, we stand for excellence, prosperity and dignity through public service. WEB: www.afscmefl.org / FACEBOOK: AFSCMEFlorida / TWITTER: @AFSCMEFL