The NFL and locked-out NFL Referees Association have been meeting since 8:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, sources on both sides of the negotiations said, the fourth straight day of meetings, as the two sides attempt to resolve a dispute that now has put replacement officials on the field for the first three weeks of the 2012 season.
While it might have seemed to the general public that the labor issue reached a tipping point with the much talked-about end to Monday night's game between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers, the league and commissioner Roger Goodell are resolute in defending a position in which they believe has long-term gains outweighing the short-term cost.
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The NFL and the locked-out referees met on Saturday and Sunday in person in New York and also negotiated by phone on Monday prior to meeting Tuesday in New York. Commissioner Roger Goodell has been part of the talks -- which have been going off-and-on for more than a week -- from Saturday's sessions on.
The biggest issue remains the referees' retirement benefits plan. The officials have enjoyed defined-benefit pension plan, and the league has been seeking, in these negotiations, to terminate that plan and switch the NFLRA over to a 401(k).
Many of the veteran referees, who are part-time employees of the NFL, opted out of retirement plans at their full-time jobs because of the NFL pension, making the switch a non-starter in these talks for them. According to NFLRA sources, offers have been made to grandfather in the existing referees and have the new ones on 401(k) plans, which a source briefed on the negotiations said the league found "untenable", given the climate of the American economy.
The other -- and less divisive -- issue revolves around the NFL's proposal to add 21 officials to the current roster of 121.
The NFL wants to create a "culture of accountability" in evaluating crews on a week-to-week basis, with the ability to bench a crew for poor performance. The NFLRA's concerns with that are:
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1) It would affect compensation, as there would be more people for the same amount of work, and officials being paid per game.
2) The problem of job security for referees, which becomes more problematic with a set rotation that makes each official less valuable.
The NFL thinks the addition of a large number of officials would provide a better opportunity to more consistently put the best officials at each game.
As for the Seahawks game, one league source said, "We get that it's painful. Even though it's short-term pain, no one likes going through it." But the thought is that the long-term gain of better officiating across the board would be worth it.
Nothing is set in stone, but absent a resolution Tuesday and barring another breakdown in talks, the sides are expected to continue talking throughout the week.