Some Pennsylvania lacrosse officials 'draw the line' at $90, opt to sit out in pay dispute

The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)

A number of western Pennsylvania boys' lacrosse officials are taking a timeout from working varsity games unless WPIAL schools give them a pay raise.

The Allegheny Lacrosse Officials Association this winter requested a $90 rate for working varsity games, but the WPIAL athletic directors association instead approved a $2 raise to $80. As a result, some officials have stopped working varsity games, leaving the WPIAL's 56 boys teams in a jam.

"I decided that the $80 a game is not worth my time and effort," said Tad Parkhill, a veteran official and member of the ALOA executive board. "A lot of other officials are making the same stand. As you can see, this is coming to a head. Something has to be done."

WPIAL athletic directors approve a recommended pay scale for officials every five years. This year is the final year of the current agreement. The recommended rate for next year increases to $84 with $2 increases annually, but the officials say they're frustrated because the schools ignored their $90 request.

"We compared our association with associations throughout the state and we're one of the lowest-paid for doing lacrosse games," Parkhill said. "So, we think we deserve more."

All PIAA officials are employed as independent contractors, making them free to accept or decline games at will. Seven years ago, the group tried to unionize as employees of the PIAA, an effort that failed in federal court.

The officials association cited that court battle in a written statement Wednesday.

"A few years ago, we tried to be employees with employment contracts that would ensure all games were played, without the difficulties now facing the WPIAL schools," the ALOA executive board said. "However, PIAA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of our officials' dues money and the schools' dues money on lawyers to fight us and to ensure that we were independent contractors rather than employees.

"That's fine; we accept the federal court's ruling. Thanks to that court ruling, as independent contractors, we each have the individual right to take or to decline whatever games we want. We are each free to decline any offered price that any one of us thinks is too low."

A lack of officials has forced some WPIAL schools to cancel or reschedule games this week. The WPIAL has said there are enough active officials for the season to continue, but some schedule dates could change.

"I do feel bad for the players," Parkhill said, "but there comes a point where you have to decide what it's worth to you."

Each WPIAL school sets its own independent rate for officials. The number agreed upon by the WPIAL athletic directors — $80 — is only a recommendation and a few schools already pay varsity lacrosse officials $90.

Parkhill said he'll continue to accept those varsity assignments and some $70 junior varsity contests, but will turn down others.

"On Friday, some of us officials decided to stop doing anything (varsity) under $90," Parkhill said. "That was the day we decided to draw the line."

WPIAL schools say there's no money in many athletic department budgets for a rate increase this spring. Besides, they argue, if boys lacrosse officials receive a raise now, all other sports will expect more money.

The five-year agreement that starts next school year includes a $2 increase each year.

"We try to give them more money on a yearly basis," said Mt. Lebanon athletic director John Grogan, who represents ADs on the WPIAL board. "Quite frankly, I respect the hell out of what they do. ... But as much as the officials would love to be paid more, on the other end we're all dealing with school budgets that aren't going up and in most cases are going down."

Grogan said Mt. Lebanon pays $60 for junior varsity games and $80 for varsity. Officials can work both and earn $140.

Disputes over pay for officials aren't new. Parkhill said officials reluctantly accepted a $5 pay cut when boys lacrosse became a PIAA-sanctioned sport in 2009, compared to rates previously paid by club leagues.

"The ADs need to get together and make a decision as to what they're going to pay us," Parkhill said. "If they want enough officials to officiate this lacrosse season, they need to bump the rate up to $90. I don't know what other alternative they have."