The NFL Referees Association is a small organization representing a constituency of a few hundred game officials.
The NFL has a well-oiled public relations machine, one that’s running smoothly after going through a lockout with the players last offseason.
So the league is firing back at claims by the NFLRA that they’re negotiating in bad faith, and tried to force a bad deal on the officials.
The league has sent out a statement clarifying a few points, insisting they have “a great respect for our officials” and that “we are available to meet with the NFLRA at any time to negotiate a new contract.”
As we wrote earlier, the league contends their seven-year proposal raises the bar for pay.
As to the NFLRA suggestion that the pension issues are as big a concern, the NFL points out that no official would lose any vested benefits, and that they wanted to move toward a 401(k) style program instead. The league cited a New York Times story which said only 17 percent of American workers have a defined benefit plan, saying many were freezing similar pension in favor of the “defined contribution” plan. The league said its latest proposal could provide a larger benefit than the old plan as well, offering “to contribute $16,500 per official in 2012 and increase that amount to almost $23,000 by 2018.”
But the league saved bullets for the claim that replacement officials would compromise the game.
The NFL said they only began hiring replacements from the ranks of retired or lower level football when the NFLPA informed them they were authorizing union leadership to call a strike.
While the NFLRA repeatedly referred to “scabs” during Wednesday’s call, the league refers to them as “experienced and high-quality officials”
“We have made substantial investments in training despite the efforts of the NFLRA to denigrate the replacements and disrupt the training process,” the league statement said.
“Our goal is to maintain the highest quality of officiating for our teams, players, and fans, including proper enforcement of the playing rules and efficient management of our games,” the statement read. ““We are confident that these game officials will enforce rules relating to player safety. Contrary to NFLRA leadership, we do not believe that players will “play dirty” or intentionally break the rules.”
The NFLRA stance is essentially that officials weren’t offered enough of a raise over what they received in 2006.
That’s not an argument that resonates with many, and it’s likely the officials will realize they don’t benefit from the same kind of public sympathy players enjoyed, the kind which could put some degree of pressure on the league.