If Mesa police and firefighters want to bargain over labor issues, they will have to persuade voters to change the city charter, City Attorney Debbie Spinner said Thursday.
Firefighters and police asked the City Council to adopt a policy obligating city management and employees to resolve disputes over working conditions, pay, hours and benefits.
The charter forbids the city from bargaining over those issues.
Former City Councilman John Giles, a lawyer representing police and firefighters, insisted the charter provision doesn't apply.
Giles said a proposed alternative, known as "meet and confer" policy, is not the same as collective bargaining. Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanaugh, a lawyer, agreed. Neither explained why.
Spinner said the policy is indistinguishable from collective bargaining for several reasons. They include a provision for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to step in when labor negotiations reach an impasse, and a requirement for the council to make binding labor agreements.
The policy also calls for dividing employees into four groups for bargaining purposes.
City Manager Mike Hutchinson and Mayor Keno Hawker said they oppose the policy because it would create separate classes of employees and limit the city manager's ability to talk to city workers.
Proponents said the policy would keep pay and benefits in line with other cities.
Ty Perkins, president of the Mesa Firefighters Association Local 2260, said he hoped the policy would be adopted "the least painful way."
"We have decisions made about us," Perkins said. "We'd like to have input in that."
Giles agreed Thursday to work with Spinner on a policy that won't require a charter change.
Hutchinson suggested retooling a 1991 policy allowing employees to make suggestions on wages and benefits before the city's budget process, known as the issues forum.
The process does not involve bargaining or arbitration.
Collective bargaining is allowed in Tempe, Phoenix, Peoria, Tucson and Surprise.