Inside the Latenight Broadway Strike Talks

Slate’s Michelle Tsai explains why the Broadway stagehands and producers are pulling all-nighters during negotiation talks. Why are they being so nocturnal? And what is taking so damn long? It can’t be all coffee and donut breaks…

It can be hard for the negotiations to get going, though, since the two sides may not immediately agree on basic ground rules. The bargaining teams have to decide whether to impose a gag rule with respect to the media or each organization’s members. They may also discuss rules for caucusing, or stepping away from the table to talk privately with others on your team.

Once the actual bargaining begins, there’s usually a lot of posturing and waiting around. The two sides can spend hours talking face-to-face and exchanging documents that bolster their arguments, but more often half the people are twiddling their thumbs. After one side makes an offer, the other goes into caucus and returns, minutes or hours later, with a counteroffer, which then prompts the first side to leave the room to work on its counter-counteroffer. Since these are compromises by committee, even small changes can take a long time. Note-takers on each side keep a record of what’s said in case there’s a disagreement down the line. In a complicated negotiation, several subcommittees might hold simultaneous talks on the side, each addressing a specific issue like employee pensions. Top negotiators can also hold one-on-one "sidebar" meetings that are separate from the main talks; this is actually how most deals are struck—over dinner or drinks, not across a conference table. (A sidebar meeting between Hollywood writers and producers in October couldn’t prevent a strike, though.)

If negotiations drag on for a whole day (or night), both sides might agree to break for a few hours. But usually so much is at stake—in the case of the Broadway strikers, millions of dollars a day in lost revenue for the city—that no one stops for sleep unless it’s absolutely necessary.