NBA referees voted 57-0 Wednesday night to reject a new labor agreement offer, saying they planned to present a counterproposal to the league Thursday.
The vote came about an hour before midnight CT at a meeting of the referees outside Chicago. Their labor pact expired Sept. 1, and the prospect of a lockout looms if a new agreement is not in place prior to the start of exhibition games Oct. 1.
"We are still meeting, we've been here since 4 p.m. and they [the referees] have decided to lock themselves in. They're not leaving, and they've empowered us to get on the phone with the league in the morning to try to make a deal and work something out," lead negotiator Lamell McMorris said.
McMorris said the league's new proposal was presented earlier Wednesday. The referees deliberated its merits for about 6½ hours before the offer was unanimously voted down. McMorris said the NBA had made some movement from its prior offer, but he would not be specific.
Labor talks had broken down acrimoniously eight days earlier when NBA commissioner David Stern accused the union of reneging on an earlier agreement regarding changes to contract language. At the time, McMorris said the sides were only $600,000 to $700,000 apart -- an amount the league disputes. McMorris did not put a dollar figure on where things stand now following the leaguer's latest offer.
McMorris said the referees planned to work into the early hours of the morning formulating their counterproposal. The sides are facing a deadline of sorts this weekend, with the annual referees' training camp scheduled to begin Sunday in New Jersey.
"We're going to try to re-open negotiations in the morning, if possible," McMorris said.
Asked his level of optimism, McMorris replied: "Well, I'm very proud. This is a tremendous demonstration on the part of these folks. I don't know what else they can do to show that they want a deal done; they're not leaving. They're not going back to their families. They're staying here and showing they clearly want to get back to work, and they're willing to stay here to ratify an agreement, but the league has to meet us halfway. So I'm hopeful from our standpoint. I just need the league to move a little with us."
NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Thursday the league would withhold comment.
The referees claim they have agreed to $2.5 million of the $3.2 million in concessions the league was seeking. The NBA believes the gap is more significant, and has made the case that it make a substantial concession in agreeing to the union's request for a two-year deal to bridge the league's economic crisis. Traditionally, the NBA has negotiated five-year labor pacts with the referees.
McMorris would not disclose what adjustments the league made to its proposal.
Previously, after Stern accused the union of reneging on an agreement regarding changes to the referees' long-term retirement benefits, McMorris alleged the NBA was trying to purge older referees by asking for systemic contract language concessions that would shield the league from age discrimination laws.
"It's the entire deal as it's currently presented. They [the referees] just could not agree to that deal as currently presented," McMorris said.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com NBA Insider.