As the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the American Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) fight for better wages and contracts, they’re also requesting better picketing conditions.
The organizations filed complaints to the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, July 19, after Universal Studios significantly trimmed down trees outside of its Los Angeles offices, seemingly stripping strikers of shade, per documents obtained by Us Weekly.
Per the paperwork, WGA claimed in its complaint that NBCUniversal was interfering with the ongoing strike by covering up picketing sites with “construction fencing,” subsequently causing two strikers to be “struck by a car.” Additionally, the organization claims NBCU refused to “provide K-rail barriers to establish pedestrian walkways for picketers to use after Los Angeles Police Department advised the employer weeks ago in the interest of public safety to do so.”
One day prior, a Universal spokesperson clarified in a statement to Deadline that the move was done so for “safety reasons” and that it was “not our intention” to create “unintended challenges for demonstrators.”
The spokesperson continued: “We have pruned these trees annually at this time of year to ensure that the canopies are light ahead of the high wind season. We support the WGA and SAG’s right to demonstrate and are working to provide some shade coverage. We continue to openly communicate with the labor leaders on-site to work together during this time.”
After launching an investigation into the tree trimming, L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia revealed on Tuesday, July 18, that “no tree trimming permits have been issued over the last three years” at the Universal Studios location. He added: “Also, the City did not issue any tree trimming permits for the latest tree trimmings.”
Mejia further noted that Universal could face a possible citation pending further investigation.
“The City of LA’s Urban Forestry Division (UFD) will coordinate w/ StreetsLA’s Investigation & Enforcement Division (IED) to confirm if this case warrants the issuance of an administrative citation or hearing,” he tweeted in a follow-up message. “If issued, the administrative citation fee starts at $250.”
Though Universal could be reprimanded for their actions, shade expert Sam Bloch exclusively told Us that it’s not uncommon for private property owners in L.A., such as NBCU, to hire outside companies to trim trees.
“The city of Los Angeles is woefully behind when it comes to enforcement of tree regulations,” Bloch — whose research has been published in Places Journal, Slate, CityLab and Landscape Architecture Magazine — told Us on Wednesday. “The general good practice is you want to be trimming trees every five to seven years. These L.A. crews do it every 15 to 20 years. So, it’s not surprising and it happens quite often that private property owners or homeowners or businesses will take matters into their own hands to tree trim themselves, even if they are on public property.”
When it comes to trees in L.A. being removed for safety reasons, Bloch said that the definition of safety could include “people that are perceived to be threats to property owners,” adding, “In this case, it’s possible that the safety reasons might be the picketers outside this business.”
Even with the shade previously provided by the trees, intense heat could pose a serious risk to strikers going forward. “Something that a lot of people don’t understand about shade is that shade can actually add 10 to 15 degrees of perceived heat to the human body just based on the sun striking your surface, but also the surfaces all around you,” he explained. “A shade-less street like that could indeed put people in danger if they’re outside for too long, especially if they’re walking back and forth, which we know is a form of physical activity.”
WGA has been on strike since May 2, with SAG-AFTRA joining the cause last week to demand new contracts and fair pay from big-name studios and streaming services.
“The companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the WGA said in a May statement. “From their refusal to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, to the creation of a ‘day rate’ in comedy variety, to their stonewalling on free work for screenwriters and on AI for all writers, they have closed the door on their labor force and opened the door to writing as an entirely freelance profession. No such deal could ever be contemplated by this membership.”