Marathon talks between the Bay Area Rapid Transit District and its striking unions ground on Wednesday, as riders braced for a fifth day of life without the train service that links numerous cities in the region.
Wednesday morning's rush-hour drive from the East Bay to San Francisco was the worst since the strike began Sunday. Transportation officials said that there were more cars on the road earlier and that they were moving more slowly.
At midafternoon, haggard BART negotiators left the Oakland union building where the talks were being held, complaining that they had spent the day confined to a single room while union negotiators chewed over the latest management proposals.
"It looks like we couldn't be further apart at this point," a grim-faced Mike Healy, spokesman for BART, told reporters. He described the atmosphere at the headquarters of Service Employees International Union, Local 790--where strikers were picketing--as hostile.
But union negotiators said the situation was not as bad as BART management portrayed it.
"Everybody has been at this for a very long time. Everyone is tired and cranky. It is an upsetting process," said Daniel Beagle, a spokesman for Local 790.
By Wednesday night, however, the talks had broken off after a series of angry exchanges and claims of harassment. Saying negotiators were exhausted after 27 hours of talks, mediators postponed further discussion of contract proposals until 10 a.m. today.
Both sides said earlier in the day that even if an agreement is reached, it will take 24 to 48 hours to get the 93-mile train system functioning again.
Three unions representing 2,600 BART employees launched the strike Sunday after rejecting management's offer of a 3% annual raise for the next three years. The unions say their workers, the highest-paid public transportation employees in the state, need more money. They also want BART to cancel its policy of hiring new workers at lower wages than veteran employees who are performing the same jobs.
Pressure on both sides to resolve the strike has been mounting. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown intervened Monday, hosting informal talks in his offices with management and the unions. Brown has called the strike a crisis for San Francisco and says it is hurting the city's economy.
His efforts were criticized by state Sen. Quentin Kopp (I-San Francisco) an old political enemy of Brown's.
The senator said he fears that the BART board of directors might offer the unions more than the 3% annual raise, which he said would require fare increases.