If it wasn’t clear given the circumstances, it’s clear now: The NFL has locked out its game officials.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello informs PFT that the lockout has commenced. “They advised us in March of their intention to take a strike vote and their plans to drag out the negotiations until late summer,” Aiello said.
By taking the initiative, the NFL can proceed with plans for identifying and training replacements, without being backed into a corner by a late-August walkout.
The effort to line up replacements also clarifies something about which there was some speculation during the player lockout last year. Even if the work stoppage is initiated by the employer, the employer can hire replacements.
Of course, the NFLRA could now try to take the league to court, either to block the hiring of replacements or, if the NFLRA decertifies (more accurately, “disclaims interest”) and the individual officials file an antitrust claim, like the players did in 2011.
That could be a more challenging task for the officials, since they are hired not by the 32 separate business that make up by the NFL but by the NFL to provide services to the 32 businesses.
Regardless, the league’s latest labor dispute officially has begun. Ed Hochuli and company are locked out. Barring a deal or a court order, the league will be using a new set of men in black (and white) once the 2012 season begins.