Some Florida high school football and volleyball referees have spent the preseason getting their Samuel Gompers on, threatening to strike over low pay, and in at least one cases the Florida High School Athletic Association has performed its version of sending in the Pinkertons. With an acknowledged school sports referee shortage nationwide, now may be the time for officials in other states to show there is power in a union, even if they may not technically have one.
In Florida, the labor battle has involved football and volleyball referees. Football referees in Southwest Florida (the Fort Myers area) and Broward County and football and volleyball referees in Palm Beach County threatened to walk out unless they got paid more — generally, about $10 more per game. The base pay scale is set by the FHSAA, but officials also get paid for travel expenses, a figure they negotiate directly with schools. Here is the base rate, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel:
The maximum pay for 2019 football referees is $65 per regular-season game and that has not changed since the 2014-15 school year. Other caps include $58 for lacrosse, $55 for basketball and baseball, $51 for soccer, $50 for softball, and $45 for volleyball. In almost all cases, area schools pay those maximums.
If even $65 to get screamed at by parents and fans for three hours on a Friday night doesn’t seem like nearly enough, then you’re like the referee associations in the three aforementioned regions (the FHSAA recognizes regional officiating associations to oversee refereeing assignments). The officials note they have received only two pay raises over the last 15 years, make about 35-40 percent less than colleagues in Georgia and Alabama, and have to spend their first year essentially working for free while they pay back $400 to cover their uniforms, drug tests and background checks.
There was a real threat that referees wouldn’t work preseason football games, scheduled to begin Aug. 14. That turned out not to be the case in Broward County, where referees decided to call off their stoppage on Aug. 5. In the other cases, things are a little more unsettled.
In Palm Beach County, football referees, who on Aug. 13 announced plans for a work stoppage, got $10 in extra travel money per game from local schools and decided on Aug. 14 to call off their strike. But as of this writing, volleyball officials in Palm Beach County hadn’t settled. They’re holding out for an extra $15 a game, as of Aug. 14 the head of the officials association there told the Palm Beach Post that local schools weren’t even returning his calls. Games scheduled for Aug. 13 and 14 have been canceled.
In Fort Myers, it appeared for a moment that the referees and local schools were coming close to a deal that would pay officials an extra $10 per game, plus a one-time $300 administration fee for their startup expenses. But those hopes were dashed on Aug. 14, when the School District of Lee County announced that the upcoming weekend’s high school football scrimmages were canceled because of, in the district’s words, a “breach of contract” by the South Gulf Football Officials’ Association.
The way the school district sees it, the association signed an agreement in May based on the FHSAA’s $65 cap, and are now refusing to work under that deal. But even if the Lee County schools and the officials’ association do come to agreement, that may be for naught.
The FHSAA revoked the sanction of the South Gulf Football Officials’ Association to be the representative for referees in the region, also citing the “breach of contract.” That means any association member can’t work any game, statewide. If the schools thought they could get referees from other areas to come (perhaps for more than the $12 travel pay), those were dashed when other referee organizations said they would refuse to send their members to Lee County.
Everyone likes to complain about the officials, but with no officials there are no games. School sports referees — your time is now. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and I don’t mean the ones they move up and down the sidelines to show you where first down is.
Bob Cook, Contributor