NFL's memo to teams on referee talks

Updated: September 2, 2012, 8:14 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The NFL's chief attorney, Jeff Pash, issued a memorandum to team CEOs, presidents and general managers on Sunday detailing last week's labor negotations with the referees. ESPN obtained the document in its entirety via email:

Last Thursday, Friday and Saturday (August 30-31 and September 1), we had a series of discussions with the NFL Referees Association concerning a possible new collective bargaining agreement. The goal was to determine if a new agreement could be in place in time to permit the regular game officials to be on the field for the start of regular season games. Those discussions at various times involved the Commissioner, John Mara, several members of the league staff, and our counsel, Bob Batterman. The officials were represented by Scott Green, the union's president, Jeff Triplette, a member of the union's negotiating committee, and the union's counsel, Mike Arnold.

The discussions began on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 29, when Commissioner Goodell contacted Jeff Triplette to determine the union's position on the status of negotiations. Based on that conversation, the Commissioner advised Mr. Triplette that we would be using replacement officials in the regular season, and Ray Anderson's memo to the clubs 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 on Thursday, August 30. Several private discussions took place on Thursday evening and Friday morning, August 31. In the course of discussions on Friday morning, 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 in order to obtain an agreement this weekend, so that the regular officials could begin to work next week, we would close the deal by agreeing to provide an additional $1 million per year, which could be used to improve either base compensation or our proposal regarding retirement benefits.

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

Apart from base compensation, we had offered to institute a new retirement plan, under which officials would participate in a defined contribution/401(k) plan, with proposed contributions of $16,500 in 2012, increasing to more than $22,000 by the end of the deal. And of course officials would retain the full value of any vested benefits earned under the existing defined benefit plan.

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

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

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

When we convened yesterday morning, the officials immediately did an about-face and made clear that they had no intention of settling within the agreed-upon parameters. Instead, Mr. Green stated that Mr. Triplette had "no authority to make that deal," and that the additional $1 million per year was nowhere near enough to conclude an agreement. Rather than telling us how they would propose to 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 much as $70 million over the life of the proposed deal. Apart from sharply higher compensation demands, the union's pre-lockout proposal also included a full grandfathering of all officials in the existing defined benefit plan, and a 20 percent increase in the defined pension benefit. For new officials, they proposed a defined contribution retirement plan with an annual contribution of $38,500 per year, while preserving a match on the officials' contributions to their 401(k) plan.

The union's abrupt change in position yesterday morning made it impossible to make any progress toward a prompt settlement. This morning's meeting concluded after less than 90 minutes (most of which was spent by the union representatives in a private caucus). We issued the following public statement after the meeting ended:

"Commissioner Goodell and other NFL staff members concluded three days of talks today with representatives of the NFLRA without reaching an agreement. No further talks are scheduled. We are proceeding with the replacement officials."

While we will remain available to meet with the NFLRA at any time, absent a substantial change in the union's position, there is no reason to think that further meetings would be productive. Needless to say, we will keep all clubs informed of developments in these negotiations. If any club has questions, please feel free to call either Ray Anderson or me.

cc: Commissioner Goodell

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