“Quick shoutout to the good people at @UniversalPics for trimming the trees that gave our picket line shade right before a 90+ degree week,” tweeted comedian Chris Stephens
While thousands of workers are striking in solidarity with both SAG-AFTRA and WGA, Universal is now under investigation for cutting back trees that provided strikers with essential shade in the summer heat.
The issue gained traction on social media when comedian Chris Stephens took to Twitter to share a picture of the trees with their shade-providing branches pruned back.
“Quick shoutout to the good people at @UniversalPics for trimming the trees that gave our picket line shade right before a 90+ degree week,” he wrote.
Quick shoutout to the good people at @UniversalPics for trimming the trees that gave our picket line shade right before a 90+ degree week. pic.twitter.com/aZvvPYQ23i
— Chris Stephens (@ChrisStephensMD) July 17, 2023 @ChrisStephensMD
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LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia got involved to see if this was an authorized action.
“Trees are essential to providing Angelenos with significant environmental and public health benefits, especially during a heatwave,” he wrote on Twitter.
An NBCUniversal spokesperson, in a statement to CNN, said there was no bad intent in the actions.
“We understand that the safety tree trimming of the Ficus trees we did on Barham Blvd. has created unintended challenges for demonstrators, that was not our intention,” said the spokesperson. “In partnership with licensed arborists, we have pruned these trees annually at this time of year to ensure that the canopies are light ahead of the high wind season.”
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However, Mejia said these trees are managed by the city, not Universal, and that they shouldn’t be trimmed annually, as the spokesperson claimed, but every five years.
“With cooperation from the Bureau of Street Services, we have found that no tree trimming permits have been issued over the last three years for this location outside Universal Studios,” added Mejia in a Twitter update. “Also, the City did not issue any tree trimming permits for the latest tree trimmings.”
Mejia posted an update about how they will proceed to move forward.
“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 wrote. “If issued, the administrative citation fee starts at $250.”
SAG-AFTRA and the WGA filed charges of unfair labor practices against NBCUniversal with the National Labor Relations Board.
“SAG-AFTRA appreciates these efforts to ensure our members have a safe place to exercise their federal rights to join picket lines to demand a fair contract,” a union spokesperson told CNNWednesday. “Suspiciously timed construction that has forced picketers into streets without proper safety rails, and now tree trimming eliminating shade during a record heatwave, has forced SAG-AFTRA to determine that it cannot safely send its members to picket at NBCUniversal.”
While NBCUniversal told CNN, “We strongly believe that the company has fulfilled our legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and we will cooperate with respect to any inquiries by the National Labor Relations Board on this issue.”
“While we understand the timing of our multi-year construction project has created challenges for demonstrators, we continue to work with public agencies to increase access. We support the unions’ rights to demonstrate safely.”
Los Angeles is forecasted to hit temperatures in the 90s this week, which could lead to picket line exhaustion.
Studio executives reportedly said earlier this month, in conversation with Deadline, that their plan with the WGA strike was “to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”