NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL Referees Association is disputing a claim by the league that the officials threatened to take a strike vote after their contract expired.
Mike Arnold, counsel for the officials, says Tuesday that claim is "patently false."
"The NFLRA has never threatened to strike," Arnold said. "After repeated references by the NFL during negotiations regarding its plans to obtain replacement officials, the NFLRA briefed its members at its annual meeting on April 21, 2012. No strike vote was taken at the meeting.
"In fact the NFLRA's directive to its membership was to prepare for the season and to perform each and every task assigned to them both before and after CBA expiration. This continues to be the position of the NFLRA."
The collective bargaining agreement ended after the 2011 season. The sides had been meeting since October, but mediation lasted only two sessions and talks broke off Sunday.
On Monday, the league said it will begin hiring and training replacement officials.
The officials say that the NFL offered salary increases lower than those obtained in the 2006 agreement.
"They heard about the increases that team and league employees receive, far less than the increases we proposed for the game officials, even without considering the improved offer made on Sunday," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "Do the officials get the same kind of raises in their other jobs as they did in 2006?"
Game officials — most of whom hold other jobs — were offered a seven-year deal that included increases of between 5 percent and 11 percent in wages per year. First-year officials who made an average of $78,000 in 2011 would earn more than $165,000 by the end of the new agreement. A 10-year veteran in 2011 who made $139,000 would get more than $200,000 in 2018.
Arnold also says the league intends to freeze and terminate the officials' pension plan, which began in 1974 and has been administered by the league since.
"The league's proposal is a massive takeaway in the overall economic package at play in the negotiations," Arnold said. "Now, despite record revenues, the NFL wants to do away with the plan."
Arnold said the NFLRA proposed to "grandfather" or limit the continuation of the pension plan to current officials only and that federal mediators "advised both parties ... the 'grandfather' solution proposed by the NFLRA would normally settle the issue."
"However, the NFL rejected the proposal and as recently as the June 3, 2012, session reiterated it is not interested in the grandfather concept," Arnold added.
Aiello countered that the NFL offered a transition from the defined benefit plan in which the officials would retain all the benefits they currently have.
"We offered to contribute $16,500 per official in 2012 and increase that amount to almost $23,000 by 2018," he said. "We showed them projections ... indicating that they would have a larger retirement benefit under our proposal than under the old defined benefit plan."
Aiello said the plan being offered is the same that everyone working at the NFL office and that many of the 32 teams have.
The players' union supported the officials on Monday, but Denver Broncos linebacker Joe Mays says the officials' plight doesn't resonate with them.
"Not really," May says. "If you go out there and play the game the way it's supposed to be played and control what you do, the refs don't really have too much say-so in it if you're playing the game the way it's supposed to be played. We don't really pay too much attention to that. We just worry about what we can control."
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this story.