Phoenix mayoral candidates claim, “It’s all the union’s fault!”

Pay raises during a recession. Union bosses in control. What’s going on at City Hall?

According to Phoenix mayoral candidates Peggy Neely, Wes Gullett and Jennifer Wright, the unions are in control, and our city is under siege.

Our cops are overpaid and underworked. We have fat to trim, but we can’t because the council and our current mayor are under the spell of unions, specifically the public safety union, PLEA (Phoenix Law Enforcement Association).

But wait. Isn’t Mark Spencer the head of PLEA? Mark Spencer, as in the archenemy of Mayor Gordon and thorn in the side of former Public Safety Manager Jack Harris? So, in other words, Neely, Gullett and Wright are claiming that the very individuals who are feuding with the union are the ones under their control?

Yes, this is one of several ridiculous theories these three candidates are throwing out as reasons the city is in debt and in need of a major overhaul.

It’s incredulous to hear Peggy Neely, the former council member who sided with the union and called for Chief Harris’ head after accusations of inflated kidnapping numbers, leading the charge against labor organizations and decrying the “union boss” she backed. Harris resigned his post, and the kidnapping numbers were later determined to be underreported. To my knowledge, Ms. Neely has yet to apologize for making the accusation that the former Chief knowingly misreported statistics in order to receive a federal grant.

Jack Harris’ resignation was perhaps the biggest “win” the union could have asked for, and they have individuals like Peggy Neely to thank. But the unions, typically supportive of Tea Party candidates, have realized that these same individuals they’ve been supporting are now blasting the very membership they represent.

Why? One assumes it has a little something to do with the fact that candidates such as Neely and Gullett have staked their win on defining public safety unions as the problem with government. And while there are several issues PLEA and I disagree on, I find the “blame the unions” argument absurd.

It’s true that the city’s single biggest expense is public safety wages. But shouldn’t that be every major city’s biggest expense? Would we want our cities spending more on garbage collection than public safety? While a utopian world would demand larger expenses for parks and rec and public libraries, urban reality demands more from public safety.

And let’s address the raises and bonuses Neely and Gullett are up in arms over. First off, the “raises” are not raises nor are the “bonuses” bonuses.

Like the military, public safety jobs have a pay structure different from the private sector. The reasoning? Police officers take on inherently dangerous jobs with the promise of benefits that compensate them for this risk. Public safety employees, much the same as military personnel, are guaranteed a pension, regardless of market fluctuations. They are also promised longevity pay and the right to bargain for wages.

The longevity pay is an incentive for officers to stay on the force longer. It makes sense that we would pay officers with additional time on the street more than freshmen cops. Veteran officers have the type of beat knowledge one can only gain with time on the job. This is an important part of community policing.

When Phoenix police officers agreed to give back 3.2% of previously negotiated wages, they did so with the understanding that longevity pay and other contractual wage agreements would not be taken away. They are not making more now than they were making before, and they are still taking furlough days.

How council members such as Neely and DiCiccio can claim they had no knowledge of longevity pay is baffling. These types of contractual agreements happen year after year. If Peggy Neely, a ten-year council member had no understanding of this, then we should all be questioning her knowledge of city government.

My guess is that Ms. Neely did understand this but has chosen to twist it into political pandering for the sake of votes. Like Mr. Gullett and Ms. Wright, she sees the political benefit in blaming deficits on overpaid cops instead of a downturn in the economy. Though these three candidates all state that public safety is important to them, they also condemn raises that are not raises and offer little in the way of solutions.

If public safety workers earn too much, what would be a reasonable wage? $20,000? $30,000? The last time public safety workers received a raise, it was commensurate with what other public safety workers make in similar sized cities. This has since decreased by 3.2%, not including mandatory furlough days that are still required.

Perhaps we should pay our officers based on results? Consider this: crime has decreased significantly over the course of the past decade while our population has increased. We have lost hundreds of officers due to retirement and a hiring freeze, leaving the department to do more with less. Those are some pretty impressive results!

Instead of thanking the department for a job well done, we have mayoral candidates blasting benefits, misrepresenting wages, and creating an environment of hostility toward those charged with protecting us. This seems counter to what we would want as our city’s image and counter to what we would expect from city leaders.

I do not believe our community shares Mr. Gullett or Ms. Neely or Ms. Wright’s feelings toward public safety. This is a community that appreciates and respects its officers. I witnessed this when I worked in the media and again after my husband’s death. It’s a huge part of why I live here and why I love this city.

Our next mayor will need to work with our public safety workers to continue the progress made in keeping our neighborhoods safe. Let’s stop using public safety as a tool for blame, and stop painting unions as monsters. We should all come to the table with respect instead of animosity – and that includes leaders and unions.

If we wish to change “politics as usual” then we need to start with candidates who will focus the debate on policy versus personality. Misrepresenting public safety is no way to run a campaign and no way to run a city. This community expects and deserves better.


  1. Jack Prom

    Great blog. Bonuses and raises for management and CEO’s have gone up without even a peep of a protest. But is making public employees and unions the scapegoats of our economy’s problems going to solve everything? Telling a certain group of workers that they do not deserve what they get in their wage package will not make those careers attractive to any future employees. Pensions, negotiated wages, contracts and raises is one way to retain and attract good employees. Just ask an employer what the costs are to replace and train employees.

  2. Clif Freedman

    Please do not vote for Peggy Neely. It is time for a full court press against Neely. She is the worst choice for mayor of Phoenix. The problem is that any of the other candidates are far better than Neely. I believe in Wes Gullet because I think he is brilliant. None of the other candidates have the capacity to move Phoenix forward in this economy. And the other candidates already had many years to not only make productive changes but were in office when the economy turned down. They did NOTHING to help Phoenix when they were in office.

    And now we see career politicians working to elect each other. First insider and former Mayor of Phoenix for two terms Skip Rimza and now insider and career politician and current Councilman Sal DiCiccio. DiCiccio and Neely did nothing to help Phoenix in the past and now they are forming a duet to sing a different tune. Do not fall for it. They clearly are singing out of tune.

    I am compiling information from the public that can assist in this matter against Neely. Knowing that Neely almost destroyed North Phoenix but fortunately resigned from the City Council just in time is my motivation to keep her from becoming Mayor. Peggy Neely does not have a clue how to respond to her constituents. She ignored serious problems in her district and set her sites on being Mayor. In this case all you have to do is look at who has contributed to her campaign. Developers, zoning attorneys and others that upon information and belief got favors from Neely for their political donations. More to come on the list of donors!

    Bryan Jeffries to the rescue. Bryan is the best thing to happen to District 2. Please email the information you have that I can use to help defeat her. I will research all information. Even the Phoenix Board of Realtors endorsed another candidate. Neely is a Real Estate Broker and marketed herself as the only Candidate for Mayor who is a Real Estate Broker…and the Phoenix Board of Realtors endorsed Wes Gullett. Most in District 2 hate her. Her involvement in the City North debacle is enough reason to insure her defeat. In my opinion everywhere she goes she becomes disliked by the people she associates with. My name is Clif Freedman, President of Sonoran Citizens Improvement Association. Email me at or call me 623 444 9445.

    1. Post
      Julie Erfle

      Clif, I don’t wish to pile ‘hate’ upon Peggy Neely or say that these candidates haven’t anything positive for the city. Though I disagree with Ms. Neely’s recent stances on city policy, I also recognize that she has made some positive contributions to the city as well. The purpose of this article, however, was to point out the inconsistencies by Neely, Gullet and Wright in their attacks against the unions and subsequent attacks on city workers, namely public safety. I do not believe that it is the union’s fault for the economic downturn nor do I believe public safety workers should be the scapegoat of city politicians. It is irresponsible to call contractual longevity pay a ‘pay raise’ and claim ‘union bosses’ have taken control of City Hall when in fact neither is true. I do agree that Bryan Jeffries was a welcome addition to the council.

  3. George Sprankle

    Neely has been in the middle of things in Phoenix for years……and what has she done?? Nothing that I know of…..Mattox brags about leading the most blighted part of town (Maryvale)…what’s with that? And he is in the pocket of the police union…..Stanton is the president of a fire fighter’s local union…Yea, he’d really be objective in dealinf ‘for’ the city….And Gullett has been a SEIU operative….Anna Brennan is well meaning, but clueless…..That leaves only one clear choice…Jennifer Wright…..She is not tied to any of the big money or union groups. She has great plans for helping small businesses get started and grow…and She will make a great mayor…I know that this was supposed to be a promotion piece for Stanton. But in all fairness He and Neely would be disastrious choices for mayor.

    1. Post
      Julie Erfle

      George, you’re throwing out information without verifying it, and it’s obvious that you didn’t really read the article. You’re confusing Stanton with Bryan Jeffries, and the “union” doesn’t have any more control in this town than the Chamber of Commerce. The article isn’t a promotion piece but rather in defense of the men and women who serve this city day after day and have become the latest victims in a blame game by politicians looking to score votes.

  4. Clif Freedman

    Julie, I was so impressed with you comment:

    the “union” doesn’t have any more control in this town than the Chamber of Commerce.

    Thanks for your blog and for this comment. Painting good people like Bryan Jeffries with the broad brush of “big boss union politics” that is clearly evident in national politics is not useful here in Phoenix. In my opinion, Neely uses whatever approach she can to move ahead in this election even if it is a lie. I have found that she has done this through out her entire political life. Just look at City North and Sonoran Blvd as two excellent examples. I have the depositions of Peggy Neely and Sarah Dobins (her assistant) in the City North lawsuit. Call me if you would like to have a copy.

    Clif Freedman, President
    Sonoran Citizens Improvement Association
    HOME: 623 444 9445

  5. eclecticdog

    I don’t mind seeing the police taking a trim. I think you are wrong about the support in the community for them. My last encounters with them have been most unpleasant. PPD is a corrupt organization. Their officers are surly, liars, thieves, and bullies. And this is just my impression from traffic stops (no accidents, no wrecklessness, no harm – no foul –
    but my family is out $500+ because of these jerks). The surest way to oppress a people is to use “THE LAW” and its use fattens police, Phx municipal courts, and city govt paychecks. To hell with them.

    1. Post
      Julie Erfle

      You may have had a negative encounter with a police officer, but painting all cops as “liars and thieves” is like saying all business owners are corrupt because of the actions of a few. I know many officers who are stand up individuals who put their own safety at risk for individuals they’ve never met. My former husband was one of those officers. I can assure you, this blog will not disparage officers, so if that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest you look elsewhere.

      1. eclecticdog

        Nowhere did I say all cops or mention your husband. If I touched a nerve I apologize, sincerely. Let me explain a bit more. There is a problem with the PPD and its union. I’m on the outside looking in and its not pretty. As a young man, I didn’t enjoy being pulled over but I knew PPD was fair, professional, and courteous. In the last 15 years, that has all changed. In a dozen encounters with the PPD over those years, there have been only 3 officers I would describe as professional, courteous, and fair. The others, surly at a minimum, verbally and in one case physically abusive. My lawyer strongly discouraged making a complaint as it could negatively affect my case. When a older, white, professional fears his police force, something is not right. At a minimum, there will be the financial nuisance of fine and at worst, financial disaster, incarceration, and even physical injury or death. If good officers can’t change a force from within, they will suffer with the bad. They can be law enforcement professionals or mere tax collectors, but they can’t be both.

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