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NFL's account of how contract talks broke down with NFL Referees Association

The NFL sent a memo Sunday detailing its stalled talks with the NFL Referees Association. Replacement referees are scheduled to work the Week 1 games, starting with Wednesday's contest between the defending champion New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

Here is the memo, which was written by NFL vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash:

Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday (August 30-31 andSeptember 1), we had a series of discussions with the NFL Referees Associationconcerning a possible new collective bargaining agreement.  The goal was to determine if a new agreementcould be in place in time to permit the regular game officials to be on thefield for the start of regular season games. Those discussions at various timesinvolved the Commissioner, John Mara, several members of the league staff, andour counsel, Bob Batterman.  Theofficials were represented by Scott Green, the union’s president, JeffTriplette, a member of the union’s negotiating committee, and the union’scounsel, Mike Arnold.

Thediscussions began on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 29, when CommissionerGoodell contacted Jeff Triplette to determine the union’s position on the statusof negotiations.  Based on thatconversation, the Commissioner advised Mr. Triplette that we would be usingreplacement officials in the regular season, and Ray Anderson’s memo to theclubs was sent shortly thereafter.  Later that day, after speaking to other members of the NFLRA leadership,Mr. Triplette offered to come to New York to meet with the Commissioner onThursday, August 30.  Several privatediscussions took place on Thursday evening and Friday morning, August 31.  In the course of discussions on Fridaymorning, Mr. Triplette quantified the economic gap between the parties as approximately$4 million per year for compensation and retirement benefits combined.  The Commissioner advised Mr. Triplette that inorder to obtain an agreement this weekend, so that the regular officials couldbegin to work next week, we would close the deal by agreeing to provide anadditional $1 million per year, which could be used to improve either basecompensation or our proposal regarding retirement benefits.

Even without this increase, theoffer made to the game officials prior to the start of the lockout provided forgenerous and continuing pay increases. In 2011, the average compensation for a game official was $149,000.  Under our last offer, average compensationwould have increased to more than $189,000 by 2018, the last year ofthe proposal we made before the lockout. Officials qualifying for postseason play, or who are referees, wouldearn even more. 

Apart from base compensation, wehad offered to institute a new retirement plan, under which officials wouldparticipate in a defined contribution/401(k) plan, with proposed contributionsof $16,500 in 2012, increasing to more than $22,000 by the end of thedeal.  And of course officials wouldretain the full value of any vested benefits earned under the existing definedbenefit plan.

The increase offered to settle thelabor dispute yesterday could be valued in several ways.  Assuming a staff of 120 game officials, anadditional $1 million would fund an $8000 increase in the average gameofficial’s annual compensation.  Alternatively,it would increase the annual defined contribution to an official’s retirementaccount by $8000.  If the officialspreferred, the additional money could have been divided between basecompensation and retirement benefits.  But assuming a game official works for 20 years, this proposal could havemeant as much as $160,000 in additional compensation or retirementcontributions for each official.

We also said that we believed a longer dealwas in order and proposed a ten-year term. Mr. Triplette agreed that a longerterm was in the interest of the game officials as well. Commissioner Goodellexpressly stated that the additional money was being offered to conclude a deal now so the officials could be on thefield for the start of the regular season. He said that the officials shouldnot schedule further meetings unless they were prepared to settle on that basis.  In other words, the increase in the offer wasto settle now – it was not to set a new floor for a new round of negotiations.

Followingthe discussions on Friday morning, Mr. Triplette spoke to other members of theNFLRA leadership.  He then advised usthat Messrs. Green and Arnold would join him in New York for furthernegotiations beginning Saturday morning. To ensure that there was no misunderstanding of our position, theCommissioner spoke to Mr. Triplette on Friday afternoon.  In response to a direct question from theCommissioner, Mr. Triplette confirmed that the union was coming to New York toconclude an agreement within the parameters that had been discussed earlier onFriday. 

When we convenedyesterday morning, the officials immediately did an about-face and made clearthat they had no intention of settling within the agreed-upon parameters.  Instead, Mr. Green stated that Mr. Triplettehad “no authority to make that deal,” and that the additional $1 million peryear was nowhere near enough to conclude an agreement.  Rather than telling us how they would proposeto allocate the additional $1 million per year the Commissioner and Mr.Triplette had discussed as the basis for closing out these negotiations, Mr.Green reverted to the union’s pre-lockout position, an economic gap of as muchas $70 million over the life of the proposed deal.  

Apart from sharply higher compensationdemands, the union’s pre-lockout proposal also included a full grandfathering of allofficials in the existing defined benefit plan, and a 20 percent increasein the defined pension benefit.  For newofficials, they proposed a defined contribution retirement plan with an annualcontribution of $38,500 per year, while preserving a match on the officials’contributions to their 401(k) plan. 

The union’sabrupt change in position yesterday morning made it impossible to make anyprogress toward a prompt settlement.  Thismorning’s meeting concluded after less than 90 minutes (most of which was spentby the union representatives in a private caucus).  We issued the following public statement afterthe meeting ended:

 “Commissioner Goodell and other NFLstaff members concluded three days of talks today with representatives of theNFLRA without reaching an agreement.  Nofurther talks are scheduled.  We areproceeding with the replacement officials.”

While wewill remain available to meet with the NFLRA at any time, absent a substantialchange in the union’s position, there is no reason to think that furthermeetings would be productive.  Needlessto say, we will keep all clubs informed of developments in thesenegotiations.  If any club has questions,please feel free to call either Ray Anderson or me.