Sergeants at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office voted last week to withdraw from the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Pasco's law enforcement deputies.
The vote was 42-15, said local FOP president William Lawless, who is a sergeant at the Sheriff's Office.
"Being president of the FOP, I'm not supporting this by any means," Lawless said.
He declined to make observations on why the sergeants left the organization, which has been at odds with Sheriff Bob White over disciplinary procedures and benefits.
The union's negotiations with White have stalled at an impasse for the past three years.
At White's request earlier this year, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey introduced a bill that would have given sheriffs the authority to break impasses in labor negotiations. The bill passed the state Senate but died in the House in May. The FOP fought against the bill, claiming it removed any incentive for the sheriff to negotiate and was meant to intimidate deputies from being involved in collective bargaining.
The issue of whether sheriffs can act as the legislative body for their own employees is now waiting resolution in the District Court of Appeal.
"As sheriff my goal is to make sure my deputies are always well cared for," White said Wednesday in an e-mail response to the Times' interview request. "They may raise their concerns to me as individuals or as a group.
"Either way, I will always support their decision."
James Preston, state president of the Florida FOP, believes White had a hand in the sergeants' decision.
"The answer is intimidation," said Preston, who retired from the Tampa Police Department in 2003 after 30 years of service. Preston believes White's administration pressured sergeants to disband from the FOP before the impasse issue is decided at the District Court of Appeal. He said he has not heard of any similar plans to leave the union by Pasco's deputies.
"The sheriff and his staff have worked very hard to make (the FOP's) work difficult," Preston said.
Preston believes that once a court decision is reached and the impasse broken, the sergeants will return.
"They'll be back," he said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.