Last night – with an overwhelming margin of 994 to 488 – Muni’s two thousand operators shot down a contract that was supported by both management and Transport Workers Union leaders that would have saved some $46 million and increased efficiency for Muni. Muni operators have now balked at money-saving measures three times in just the last eighteen months.

Now, an independent arbitrator who, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, could render a decision by Tuesday, will decide the contract dispute. Whatever contract is decided upon by the arbitrator will be binding and will take effect beginning July 1.

The vote was met by frustration from Muni’s leaders, prompting the Municipal Transportation Agency’s chairman Tom Nolan to say “I didn’t see that coming…” and SFMTA executive director Nat Ford to characterize Muni’s reaction as “disappointed.”

All other public employee unions in The City have agreed to some forms of concessions, an effort to which San Francisco Labor Council executive director Tim Paulson said he was “mighty proud.”

In an interesting potential backfire for Muni, Transit Workers Union Local 250-A president Rafael Cabrera said that “the actions by management’s spokesman created a sense of mistrust and confusion that was hard to overcome,” referring to the PR firm hired by Muni for $100,000 to shepherd this process.

Some aspects of the rejected contract that would have benefited Muni included allowing the SFMTA to bring on some part-time operators to help bring down overtime costs and giving management a larger say when dealing with discipline – an element of the contract unpopular with operators.

The final deal, however, did not include reduction in pay for evening shifts or getting rid of paid lunch breaks, which SFMTA had originally sought.

One aspect of the arbitration that could result in SFTMA’s favor is that “the new contract cannot adversely affect transit service.”

We’ll follow this story closely and update as progress is made.