Ambulance Chasers

Winning ambulance contracts? It's all about who you know. (Unless it's about the dirt they've got on you.)

His opponents are.

Back in his consulting days, Cantelme ran the political campaigns of dozens of city officials around the Valley, from Phil Gordon on down. He's also made generous financial contributions to any number of local candidates and issues for the past decade.

This past May, Cantelme and Ramsey hired Tempe Vice Mayor Mark Mitchell to work for PMT as its director of public affairs. Mitchell's father was a longtime council member and is currently a state senator. He was also recently elected chairman of the Arizona Democratic party.

Pat Cantelme
Giulio Sciorio
Pat Cantelme
Billy Shields, president of the union Pat Cantelme built, is supporting his old friend.
Giulio Sciorio
Billy Shields, president of the union Pat Cantelme built, is supporting his old friend.

Mitchell's previous job? Sales manager, at Tempe Paint and Decorator Center.

Thanks to Cantelme's connections, PMT has also been able to neutralize the power of the firefighting unions.

Under different circumstances, one of Southwest's aces in the hole would be its employees' membership in the IAFF. Mainly because of Pat Cantelme, the firefighting unions in the Valley are strong, highly political, and highly connected.

Theoretically, Southwest's ambulance workers could mobilize their union brothers in Scottsdale, Chandler and Tempe to argue that Southwest's losing its 911 contracts would be a loss of union jobs.

After all, PMT is not unionized. And even though Cantelme and Ramsey swear that they're interested in unionizing the workers there, none of the other companies in their stable has a single union employee.

In August, one of Southwest's ambulance workers went to their Vegas company. The worker, Adam Lizardi, asked about getting a job there.

According to a memo he later wrote to his union brothers, the human resources coordinator assured him that there would be no union in the company's future.

Some employees, she told him, had attempted to organize only a few weeks earlier.

"It took us all of three days to squash it," Lizardi reported her saying. (Ramsey dismisses the memo as "absurd.")

But despite that, few other firefighters unions in the Valley have been willing to come to the Southwest workers' aid.

Chandler and Tempe, after all, are part of the union that Pat Cantelme built. The top union officials for both departments serve as vice presidents in the Phoenix firefighters union -- Cantelme's old stomping grounds. And they have insisted on staying neutral, which is almost unheard of when IAFF jobs are at stake.

Some union officials are convinced it's because of their friendship with Pat Cantelme.

(It's worth noting that the vice president representing Tempe, Rich Woerth, has a limited liability company with Cantelme dating back to 1999, according to state records. He did not return calls for comment.)

Meanwhile, the current president of the Phoenix union, Billy Shields, is not just staying neutral. He's openly critical of the emergency workers' efforts.

The reason, he says, isn't his friendship with Cantelme. It's because the emergency workers won't look at the big picture. They wouldn't write a letter supporting the Scottsdale firefighters' bid to keep ambulance service for itself when the department became municipal.

And they don't want to unionize PMT, he says, even though Cantelme has asked them to do so.

"They said, 'They're going to take our jobs! You have to help us!'" Shields says. "But I asked them, 'What did you do for the union in Scottsdale?' They wouldn't help because they're afraid of losing their jobs. And that's not a real union. That's a company union."

As for Scottsdale, its union, too, is refusing to support the emergency workers' efforts to block PMT.

Unlike Chandler and Tempe, Scottsdale's firefighters have their own union, not one organized under Phoenix. But even in the Scottsdale union, there's a financial connection: Bob Ramsey is an investor in a bar owned by the union president, Steve Springborn.

Springborn says that Ramsey's interest is only about 5 percent. He says it has nothing to do with his unwillingness to support the emergency workers.

Like Shields, Springborn accuses the union of fighting for the company's interests rather than its own.

"It seems like the leadership at [the emergency workers union] only wants to get involved if it benefits them," he says. "If it's someone, the same rules just don't apply."

Payne, the emergency workers' vice president, estimates that if his company loses 911 contracts in Scottsdale and Chandler, his workers may survive. They'd lose overtime, but probably not their jobs.

But if Cantelme and Ramsey also take the contract with Tempe, it could mean the loss of as many as 24 jobs.

Cantelme has vowed that PMT will hire any Southwest workers who lose their jobs. But Payne says many of his members have worked for Bob Ramsey before.

They don't want to do it again.

By September, tensions in the IAFF headquarters in central Phoenix had escalated to the point that emergency workers -- who sublease an office for their union on the second floor -- were sending nasty anonymous e-mails to officers in the Phoenix Fire Fighters Association, who own the building and office on the first floor.

"How can you stand by and let the I-60 membership down?" demanded one anonymous e-mail, obtained by New Times. "We have lost our jobs to a scab company that has been charged with unfair labor practices. This is going to get ugly and we are afraid we cannot protect you any longer."

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