Law Enforcement Union: Dead or alive?

National director says Blount deputies' union can't be folded by a few officers

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

The national field director for the International Union of Police Associations said Tuesday that the "temporary" president and board members who folded the local IUPA union recently didn’t have the right to do so.

Dave Nulton, IUPA director of field operations, said around 50 deputies formed the union during a meeting at the United Steel Workers hall in Alcoa on Feb. 7 and named the organization the Blount County Law Enforcement Union. Nulton blamed Sheriff James Berrong for undermining the leadership of the IUPA local.

"In my book they folded under pressure and in my book it came right from the top," Nulton said.

When Nulton was asked if he was saying Berrong caused the leaders to quit the union, Nulton was quick to answer. "In one word - absolutely. I would remind elected officials that it is not their decision, nor my decision (to dissolve the union). It’s the employees’ position."

When contacted Tuesday night, Berrong said he didn’t want to comment on Nulton’s allegations.

"My main goal is to get parity in pay with local agencies; they deserve that," he said of deputies. "That’s my one and only goal."

"Nulton said he didn’t get any official word from the local union leadership before or after they said the union was dissolved on Feb. 22.

"I got an anonymous call from one of the deputies. I have not heard from the temporary president or any of the board who decided that night," Nulton said.

Nulton said he has been working with unions since the late 1960s and had never seen a local union’s leadership announce their organization was closing when they didn’t get an official vote from members.

"From our standpoint, we have a binding charter. A few people can’t decide for the majority. The union has not been dissolved or been disbanded. It’s a functioning local," Nulton said. "We’ll be taking our time and developing the local as long as local employees want. This thing about two or three people meeting and disbanding is not the right way to go."

Nulton said this turn of events could bode negatively in how the union interacts with the management at the sheriff’s office. "We’re always willing to work with folks on a management level in a positive atmosphere. This certainly negates that effort," he said. "I can tell you this, I’m a very patient man. In the long term, as long as we have a core group that wants to do this, it’s their decision."

The executive members of the Blount County Law Enforcement Union issued a press release Thursday evening, Feb. 22, announcing the decision to disband.

According to the press release, members that were voted in as office holders had been gauging the support the union would have among the employees of the sheriff’s office.

"We have determined that a union is not a viable option. A union would not be the best voice for the employees of the sheriff’s office to reach the public," the press release said.

"Rather than creating another body of officers to speak about pay and benefits, we feel that our employees are being well served by the local F.O.P. on this matter."

According to the press release, the F.O.P. has served the community for several years with programs such as the annual Shop with a Cop and the annual F.O.P. Kids Camp. "Since January, the F.O.P. began serving the employees of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office in a way that has not been seen in the past," the union said.

"The F.O.P. has turned into a voice for the employees of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office in a way that we had hoped a local union would. Rather than wait six months to form a local union and speak to the community, we instead endorse the F.O.P. and the efforts they are making now on behalf of the employees of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office."

The office holders of the union said they encouraged the community to support the employees, the F.O.P. and Sheriff James Berrong.

F.O.P. Bud Adams Memorial Lodge 9 President Tony Rayburn said he was excited about the former union members joining the F.O.P.’s efforts.

"They’re good officers and very good friends of mine. The F.O.P. is very fortunate to have them on board," Rayburn said.

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