The NFL and its regular referees, the locked-out ones represented by the NFLRA, last met on Sept. 1, according to an internal NFLRA memo obtained by the Baltimore Sun. With almost three weeks since the league and its officials last talked, replacement referees could be on the field for some time.
The memo says that the NFL refused to negotiate over its offer on referee pensions.
According to the memo, negotiators for the NFL offered an additional $1 million per year over a seven-year term to the total compensation package for officials. The prior collective bargaining agreement increased compensation for officials at about $1 million per year, excluding retirement benefits, according to the memo. The league's offer came with the condition that officials agree to "freeze and terminate" their current defined benefit pension plan.
The NFLRA countered with a willingness to reduce the $1 million annual compensation increase if the league was willing to negotiate over retirement benefits and other issues.
A divide of $250,000 for the 2012 season separates the two sides, according to the NFLRA, but the matter of retirement benefits appears to be the biggest sticking point.
Officials are proposing a gradual shift from a defined benefit pension plan, one that pays a specific amount to retirees based on their former salaries, to a defined contribution plan, i.e. a 401(k) in which officials play a portion of their salary to be matched by the NFL. New hires would be on the defined contribution plan, gradually ending the current pension system by limiting it to current beneficiaries.
According to calculations from the NFLRA, the league's annual contribution to individual retirement plans would decline to $18,250 per official each year. The NFL currently pays approximately $40,000 per year per official under the current plan.
Under the NFLRA proposal, the league would contribute $38,500 per year per official and increase monthly benefits for current officials by $55 a month.
Estimates from the officials put the total cost of their proposed retirement plan at $7 million for 2012. That number would fall "over time" to $5 million per year, the same amount the league paid under the previous agreement.
The NFLRA claims that if the organization received everything it was asking for, it would cost each team less than $100,000 per year and still amount to less than the prior collective bargaining agreement. In 2014, league revenues are expected to increase when a new contract with its broadcast partners takes effect, a point mentioned in the NFLRA memo.
The memo concludes by reiterating a willingness to resume negotiations. Currently, there are no outward signs of that happening.