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Referees deny NFL's claims they had considered strike vote

NEW YORK -- 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, said 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 (collective bargaining agreement) expiration. This continues to be the position of the NFLRA."

The CBA 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 said 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 said 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.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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