- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

NEW YORK The NFL Referees Union has a day to consider a new offer by the league before replacements are assigned to work the opening week of the regular season.

The NFL increased its offer to the locked-out officials yesterday but rejected a call by the union for arbitration in a meeting that lasted just a half-hour.

Afterward, union negotiator Tom Condon flew home to Kansas City. He was due to discuss the offer in a conference call late last night with the union's four-member executive committee Ed Hochuli, Bill Carollo, Jeff Bergman and Ben Montgomery.

The NFL's latest offer includes a 60 percent increase in salaries this year, compared with the 40-percent jump in the NFL's previous offer. But the rest of the package remains the same, with officials' salaries doubled by 2003.

Even the new offer is far below what the union has demanded.

League spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had to know the union's response by today in order to make plans for the weekend.

"We hope the membership will consider it and respond favorably," Aiello said.

Hochuli, the association's president, told Fox Sports that he believed the board would reject the offer and the replacement officials would work this weekend.

Messages left for Hochuli by the Associated Press had not been returned late last night.

Last week, the league locked out its officials, who have been without a contract since March. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the NFL didn't want to start the season without a contract, which would allow officials to walk off the field at any time.

Last week's final exhibitions were worked with replacements, most from college or the Arena Football League, and there were no major gaffes. But the league clearly was concerned that once the games counted, small mistakes would be magnified.

Talks resumed Tuesday and reconvened yesterday morning, when the league put its new offer on the table. Over the long term, however, the two sides remain 50-75 percent apart.

The latest development leaves the NFL with two plans, one of which must be implemented by today. One has a slate of regular officials scheduled for the 15 games on opening week; the other has crews of replacements, augmented by NFL supervisors, ready to get to the games.

Regardless of who works them, the replacement officials have been guaranteed four games at $2,000 a game.

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