Two months ago, Mike Schatz thought his boss, Gary Carpaneto, was a pretty good guy. Carpaneto had generally been cordial for the three years Schatz was able to do the heavy work Carpaneto demanded of him.
Carpaneto owns Bedrock Stone Company in Glendale, a landscaping company with 20 or so employees.
Schatz, 48, drove a dump truck for Carpaneto. When Schatz needed to deliver a large load, he'd hook up a massive trailer full of rock behind his truck.
To separate the multi-ton trailer from the truck, Schatz had to manually push a heavy steel lever and crank with his left hand against a heavy spring. Removing a rock trailer's pencil hook is an awkward little task most men are too weak to pull off.
In the last year, Schatz's joints and tendons began to ache from the procedure. A few times, he heard pops in his arm, then searing pain. As the pain increased, his doctor began shooting his arms full of cortisone shots to numb the pain. In time, he was taking Vicadin to sleep. During the day, he would try to get by with ibuprofen so his head was clear enough to work.
Schatz couldn't afford his arm to break down on him. He had just bought a new house in Glendale. It was a basic, three-bedroom frame house. But it had a pool and a nice backyard. It was the nicest house he's ever had. It was a dream home for which Schatz and his wife, Jackie, had been saving for years.
As Schatz's arm became lame, Carpaneto allowed Schatz to transfer to driving a semi truck with no trailer. By that time, though, Schatz was having trouble doing any heavy labor with only one working arm.
So he went back to his doctor. His general practitioner referred him to a surgeon. The surgeon gave him an MRI, and the images showed a fresh tear through the rotator cuff in his shoulder.
Schatz told his boss he needed surgery to be strong again. His boss told him he couldn't take workers' compensation, even though the injury was clearly work-related.
At least Schatz had insurance through Bedrock Stone Company. He scheduled his surgery for September 3. The doctor said Schatz needed four to six weeks to recover. Schatz's boss would only give him three weeks.
Schatz agreed. What else could he do with the Arizona economy the way it is?
The surgery went well. Over the next 10 days, the pain decreased and the swelling subsided. Thank goodness, since September 14 was moving day. Schatz needed to be mobile enough to direct his nephews as they hauled furniture to his new home.
That afternoon, as he sat in the driver's seat of a rented moving truck, Schatz began feeling a tight burning in his chest. For the next 90 minutes, he fought off the pain as his nephews loaded furniture into the back.
Schatz then drove the truck home. Once he reached his living room, he collapsed on the couch. He told his wife to call paramedics.
Paramedics took him to Maryvale Hospital. Doctors there told Schatz he was having a massive heart attack. He was flown by helicopter to St. Joseph's Hospital where he underwent heart surgery.
Two days later, as Schatz lay in St. Joseph's Hospital's Intensive Care Unit, he asked his wife to call his boss, Gary Carpaneto, to tell him what happened. He wanted to warn Carpaneto that he probably wouldn't be able to be back to work in a week.
Jackie asked for Carpaneto. Carpaneto got on the phone. Jackie explained that her husband had nearly died, but that he was stable and in the ICU at St. Joe's.
Then Carpaneto showed what appear to be his true colors:
"He said: Well, what does that mean?'" Jackie told me. "Does that mean he's not coming back to work?'
"He had a heart attack,'" she told him. "We're not sure what's going on yet. But we'll definitely keep you informed.'
"I was shocked," Jackie says. "I didn't think somebody could go that low."
I left five messages last week for Carpaneto with his secretary. Carpaneto did not return my calls.
Mike Schatz recovered quickly. On October 10, his doctor said he was capable again of driving a truck.
He called Carpaneto.
Carpaneto told Schatz he was fired. Carpaneto apparently had found a new younger driver who hadn't yet been injured by the work asked of him.
Schatz was devastated. He liked his job and felt he had always given his best to build the company. And besides, it was a terrible time to be unemployed. People aren't hiring and he was trying to move into a new house.
He sulked for a few days, then began looking for other jobs. He found that nobody wants a 48-year-old guy with a suspect heart. He had used Carpaneto as a reference on his résumé. He figured Carpaneto would tell potential employers about his work ethic. Instead, Carpaneto apparently told potential employers about the heart attack.
After two weeks of futile job hunting, Schatz received more bad news from work. Carpaneto had canceled Schatz's insurance. The cancellation was retroactive to the beginning of the month. Which meant neither Schatz's shoulder surgery on September 4 nor his heart attack was covered by insurance.
More bills rolled in. Ten thousand. Thirty thousand. Sixty thousand. As of two weeks ago, he owed $90,000 to doctors and hospitals.
"This has destroyed me," he says. "I'm doing everything I can and I still can't make ends meet."
"It's taking a real toll on the family," Jackie says. Jackie's daughter and nephew live with the couple. "It's been a very rough time on all of us."
Schatz has begun doing odd jobs. His heart and shoulder are doing well. He feels 100 percent again.
Still, he realizes he needs to go easy on his body. He could drive trucks, or he could be a supervisor or take a desk job.
A few weeks ago, Schatz decided his only alterative was to enter the landscaping business himself. He started Mike's Landscaping. Schatz has already picked up a few jobs around Glendale. Still, the start-up business is far from paying the bills.
Bedrock Stone Company was once a start-up, too. Now the company is acting like the most irresponsible of multinationals.
So perhaps Mike's Landscaping is now your best choice for landscaping in the northwest Valley.
After all, in a right-to-work state, justice only comes to a company's employees if the company's customers demand it.
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Carpaneto, although only under pressure, may yet do right by Mike Schatz. After I began making calls to the Bedrock Stone Company, Schatz said Carpaneto called him saying he intended to change Schatz's insurance coverage so that all the surgeries would be paid for by insurance.
Schatz, though, believes it's all talk.
"I'll believe it when I see one of these bills paid," Schatz says.
So the heart of the matter still remains. Bedrock Stone Company and its owner, Gary Carpaneto, owe Mike Schatz $90,000 and a big apology.