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Can the NFL players union help the NFL referees union?



This has been a week of point-counterpoint news stories and rebuttals, as summarized by Barry Wilner of the Associated Press, about the labor dispute between the NFL and its referees.  The NFL has locked out the members of the NFL Referees Association since June 3, due to an impasse in negotiations.  The NFL has hired non-union replacement officials to work pre-season and possibly regular season games until there is a collective bargaining agreement.

For the most part, the coaches have not said much positive or negative about the replacement officials; however the players have started publicly worrying about the ability of the replacement officials.  According to Jeff Dickerson of, Adam Podlesh of the Chicago Bears says the replacement officials are “a concern.”  New Orleans quarterback, Drew Brees, has been more outspoken.  Nakia Hogan of the Times-Picayune reports that Brees wants the regular NFL officials back as soon as possible, and he is very concerned about going into the regular season with replacement officials.

Other than expressing hope that the members of the NFLRA return to the field as soon as possible, the players, who belong to the NFL Players Association, can do little else.  According to page seven of the CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA, the players cannot engage in a strike or any other type of work action during the duration of the contract.  If a coach or owner refuses to field his team for their scheduled game for any reason, that team forfeits the contest.

But, what happens if the players feel that the replacement officials are creating an unsafe work environment or poor working conditions?  If the NFLPA believes the non-union officials represent a safety hazard, the players union can petition the Joint Committee on Player Safety and Welfare (three members represent teams, three represent the NFLPA).  If the committee recommends anything, it is up to the NFL Management Council to act on those recommendations.

So, it appears the NFL coaches, owners, and players can only speak out in favor of the NFLRA and hope that the two sides can come to an agreement before the regular season starts.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"