By Kevin Bogardus - 09/25/12 08:00 PM EDT
The AFL-CIO said Tuesday that the National Football League's (NFL) lockout of its unionized referees is a "complete disaster."
Alison Omens, a spokeswoman for the nation's largest labor federation, blasted the lockout in a memo and said the safety of the league’s players has been put at risk by the replacement referees.
"The NFL referee lockout is a complete disaster — something that’s obvious to everyone except (supposedly) the people keeping the referees locked out. Much ink has been spent on decrying the replacement referees and how they’re ruining football (never mind how they’re putting players’ safety at risk)," Omens writes.
The referees have been unable to come to a labor deal with the NFL, leading the league to have replacements on the field instead.
The lockout has turned into a hot political topic. President Obama and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan weighed in on Tuesday, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) — who has battled to limit the collective bargaining power of some public workers — urged the two sides to reach an agreement for the sake of the game.
The AFL-CIO took a swipe at Walker in the memo, suggesting the governor keep the lockout in mind the next time he takes on labor groups in his state.
"Union members bring huge value to our communities and our lives every day. Scott Walker and others would do well to remember that the next time they treat union members — firefighters, teachers, autoworkers — differently than union referees who are cut from the same cloth," Omen wrote in the memo.
The talks between the NFL and the referees are being carried out behind closed doors. The Washington Post reported last week that pension contributions had emerged as one of the major areas of disagreement.
The NFL Players Association, which is an AFL-CIO affiliated union, has sounded off about the quality of the replacement referees. In a letter to the owners dated last Thursday, the players called on the league to end the lockout.
"Your decision to lock out officials with more than 1,500 years of collective NFL experience has led to a deterioration of order, safety and integrity. This affirmative decision has not only resulted in poor calls, missed calls and bad game management, but the combination of those deficiencies will only continue to jeopardize player health and safety and the integrity of the game that has taken decades to build," said the letter.
In a statement to the players, DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said it was the league's duty to provide a safe workplace.
"The league will want fans, the media and sponsors to talk only about ‘the product’ on the field. We are not product," Smith said.
Smith also said the players' union was reviewing what to do next.
"Contrary to some reports, we are not crossing any picket line. The referees are not on strike. The owners locked them out," Smith said. "We are actively reviewing any and all possible actions to protect you."
The AFL-CIO has never been a fan of the replacement referees. Last month at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the replacement referees were "scabs" and "incompetent."
— This story was updated at 4:22 p.m. and at 5:37 p.m.