Frontline Jackson Memorial Hospital worker wins job back after unjust termination

Working in the Mental Health Department at Jackson Memorial Hospital is no easy task. Just ask Armando Vasquez, a 17 year veteran employee who has seen it all. "I've been kicked, punched, bitten, attacked with chairs, it's all part of the job," he said.  Vasquez's position as a Mental Health Technician entails caring for patients who are may be experiencing psychotic episodes or bouts of drug induced aggression. These patients are often volatile and can pose a danger to themselves and others. That's why Vasquez's role often involves quick thinking to deescalate emergency situations so no one is hurt. Unfortunately, one such incident in October of 2018 resulted in this seasoned medical professional being assualted and then, shockingly, unjustly terminated. Thankfully, AFSCME Florida and Local 1363 had his back.

On the day in question, Vasquez was asked to respond to a "Code Gray" situation involving an aggressive patient in the Crisis Mental Health Unit. "When I arrived, it was total chaos," he recalled. "There were three patients and a violent situation unfolding where one of them was threatening staff and the others." Vasquez used his training in deescalation to attempt to calm down the agitated patient. That's when all Hell broke loose and the patient flew into a blind rage and attacked.

"I was assaulted pretty bad. contusions to my face, scratches, bruises --- I was pretty shook up." Vasquez's co-worker, current Local 1363 Vice-President Chanel Charles advised him to go to the Emergency Room for treatment immediately.

Upon being treated for his injuries, Vasquez intended to return to his duties, just another day on the job. However, instead of being thanked for intervening to protect patients and staff from a violent encounter and taking the brunt of the abuse, Vasquez was stunned when management told him he was being placed on ten day administrative leave. "I couldn't believe it," he said. "I was in shock."

An internal investigation by Jackson Health found that Mr. Vasquez had allegedly uttered a curse word while being physically attacked and concluded that was sufficient to terminate him from he had dedicated himself to for 17 years. "I was crushed." he said. "I love my job. I'm dedicated to it. Never in a million years did I think this could happen."

As Vasquez was reeling from the news and trying to figure out how he was going to support his family of four including two small children, AFSCME stepped in. "I knew Armando was a hard working staff member who takes his job very seriously, said Charles, Local 1363's Vice-President. "What happened to him was wrong and I was confident he would be vindicated."

With the assistance of AFSCME Florida President Vicki Hall and Local 1363 President Rene Sanchez and the legal guidance of AFSCME Florida attorney Stacy WeinArmando filed a grievance immediately with Jackson Health. However, due to extenuating circumstances including the COVID 19 pandemic, the arbitration dragged on for several months in which time Vasquez was forced to seek out other employment, but once the case was finally heard and all the facts were presented, the truth was crystal clearly: Mr. Vasquez was unfairly fired. He deserved his job back with full back pay dating back to his termination. And that's exactly what he got.

Today, Armando is back at Jackson Memorial Hospital doing the important, challenging, and rewarding work he loves. "It took some time," he said, "but when you have a union like AFSCME in your corner, justice prevails. So stand up, be a part of your Union and fight back. You may not know when you will need the power of AFSCME on your side."

"We are thrilled that Armando is back on the job and that justice has been served," said AFSCME Florida President Vicki Hall. "This underscores the important work AFSCME Council 79 does to stand up for each and every one of our members. We have your back."