A viral tweet from a WGA member picketing outside of Universal’s lot in Los Angeles included a photo of trees trimmed along the street near the SAG-AFTRA/WGA picket lines. The member pointed the timing of the trimming, which appeared to coincide with the protests and the day’s 90 degree weather.
Following the post on Monday, some guild members accused the studio of attempting to interfere with the ongoing strike’s picket lines by removing shade during the intense heat in Burbank.
In a statement to Rolling Stone on Tuesday, a NBCUniversal spokesperson claimed that the trimming had been done for safety reasons and said that while it has “created unintended challenges for demonstrators,” that was not their intention. “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,” the statement continued. “We support the WGA and SAG’s right to demonstrate, and are working to provide some shade coverage.”
On Tuesday evening, Los Angeles City Controller Kenneth Mejia said his office is currently investigating the “tree trimming” where “workers, writers, and actors are exercising their right to picket.” He added, that the street’s trees are managed by the city of Los Angeles.
“Trees are essential to providing Angelenos with significant environmental and public health benefits, especially during a heatwave,” Mejia wrote in the statement posted to Twitter. “Public Works’ Bureau of Street Services (StreetsLA) is responsible for maintaining the City’s 700,000+ trees in the public right-of-way.”
In a series of tweets, Mejia also pointed out that while StreetsLA Urban Forestry Division (UFD) crew helps with tree maintenance, businesses can apply for a permit to trim trees. He added that “code enforcement for street trees (including the pruning or removal of trees without a permit) is the responsibility of the StreetsLA Investigation and Enforcement Division. Violations can result in code enforcement citations.”
Earlier, per the LA Times, the WGA and and SAG-AFTRA filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, in which the guilds accused NBCU of interfering with protests by erecting construction fencing in areas designated as picketing locations, “forcing picketers to patrol in busy streets with significant car traffic.” The complaint also accused the studio of refusing to provide barriers to establish pedestrian walkways for picketers to use.
Similar to the statement offered in response to the untimely tree trimming, the studio said in a statement that while it understands “the timing of our multi-year construction project has created challenges for demonstrators,” they would “continue to work with public agencies to increase access.”