Blame the MTA:

On the final day of intense negotiations, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, it turns out, greatly altered what it had called its final offer, to address many of the objections of the transit workers' union. The authority improved its earlier wage proposals, dropped its demand for concessions on health benefits and stopped calling for an increase in the retirement age, to 62 from 55.

But then, just hours before the strike deadline, the authority's chairman, Peter S. Kalikow, put forward a surprise demand that stunned the union. Seeking to rein in the authority's soaring pension costs, he asked that all new transit workers contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their pensions, up from the 2 percent that current workers pay. The union balked, and then shut down the nation's largest transit system for the first time in a quarter-century.

Yet for all the rage and bluster that followed, this war was declared over a pension proposal that would have saved the transit authority less than $20 million over the next three years.