The NFL will have its regular officials back on the field tonight, as the owners ended their lockout of the referees, reaching a tentative agreement. The referees union must vote to approve the contract, but the NFL was holding up the return to play for the officials by locking them out, so their lifting that allowed the officials to go back to work.

Officials will receive a solid raise throughout the eight-year deal, and here is the information on their pensions, which was the main bone of contention:

Under the proposal, the current defined benefit pension plan will remain in place for current officials through the 2016 season or until the official earns 20 years of service. The defined benefit plan will then be frozen.

Retirement benefits will be provided for new hires and for all officials beginning in 2017, through a defined contribution arrangement. The annual league contribution made on behalf of each game official will begin with an average of more than $18,000 per official and increase to more than $23,000 per official in 2019.

So they saved their defined benefit pension for five years, and get a fairly hefty defined contribution thereafter. In one of the other major sticking points, the league will be able to hire an indeterminate number of officials full-time, and have more officials available than the current staff of 121. This is certainly a better contract than the owners wanted to give; they wanted to end the defined benefit pension immediately.

Referees are well-paid, just like everyone associated with the lucrative business of professional football. But we saw over the last few weeks that they are paid at a level commensurate with their skills. And in a rare set of circumstances, the entire nation got a chance to see in real time the documented value of skilled labor over scab labor. It has relevance for a host of labor fights, and hopefully can be used as an object lesson. More on this from the New York Times.

I imagine that tonight in Baltimore, you will see a rare sight – a big round of applause for the referees.

…the league referees hold and retain that set of skills because they work at it, internally, through their union:

Even before the regular season began, referee Ed Hochuli became an self-styled headmaster of officiating boot camp during the lockout, circulating five-hour tests on rules among the 121 officials, conducting weekly conference calls to discuss rules and sending around hours of tape every week so that officials will be prepared to step in.

That’s completely voluntary, by the way, but 95% of all referees showed up on the conference calls each week.