Wednesday, July 19, 2023

NLRB Investigating NBCUniversal Tree-hacking at Writer's Guild Picket Line in LA (Washington Post)

These union-busting tree-hacking Hollywood mafia tactics are a stench in the nostrils of our Nation. 

Looking forward to an Administrative Law Judge and the National Labor Relations Board holding full and fair hearings on the NLRB complaints filed by two unions.   

Let justice be done.

L.A. investigating after Universal trims trees near writers’ picket line

A row of ficus trees on Barham Boulevard near the Universal Studios Lot in Los Angeles County, seen on July 14, left, and July 17. (Photo by Chris Stephens)
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Chris Stephens, a comedian and TV writer, didn’t notice anything amiss Monday morning as he crossed the street to join the other writers picketing outside the Universal Studios Lot north of Hollywood. Then someone asked whether he had seen the trees.

Stephens turned around. A row of leafy ficus trees lining the sidewalk on Barham Boulevard, where striking writers have been gathering to picket, had been shorn of many of their branches and leaves.

Those branches and leaves had cast a welcome shade, shielding them from the summer heat. Now, days after Hollywood actors announcedthey would join striking writers in a move that has paralyzed the country’s movie and television studios, they were gone.

The pruned trees left only skeletal shadows on the sidewalk as temperatures hovered around 90 degrees on Monday.

“It seemed like a deliberate move,” Stephens told The Washington Post. “To make things a little more uncomfortable for everybody, right when the pressure got turned up.”

A spokesperson for NBCUniversal confirmed to The Post that the company had pruned the trees. Universal’s confirmation was first reported by Deadline.

“We understand that the safety tree trimming of the Ficus trees we did on Barham Blvd. has created unintended challenges for demonstrators,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “That was not our intention.”

NBCUniversal is working to offer picketers shade coverage, pop-up tents and water, according to the spokesperson. The company has maintained the trees for years and prunes them annually in partnership with arborists for safety ahead of the “high-wind season,” the spokesperson said.

L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia said in a tweet Tuesday evening that his office is investigating the trimmings. The pruned trees are managed by the city, though businesses can obtain permits to trim trees from the city’s Bureau of Street Services, Mejia said. He added that they should be trimmed every five years.

The L.A. Bureau of Street Services and the Department of Public Works did not immediately respond to inquiries Tuesday evening about whether NBCUniversal had a permit to manage the trees near its studio. The NBCUniversal spokesperson declined to comment on the controller’s statement.

The Writers Guild of America did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon. A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson told The Post that on Tuesday, the two unions each filed unlawful labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against NBCUniversal regarding unsafe conditions at picketing sites, referencing the tree-trimming incident as an example.

In an interview with The Post, Eric Haywood, a member of the WGA Board of Directors, who also picketed at the site on Monday, called the pruning a union-busting tactic. It came as areas of central and southern California have been threatened by extreme heat. Temperatures in the San Fernando Valley have hovered around the 90s, baking the concrete sidewalks around the Universal Studios Lot, where throngs of picketers have gathered each weekday to protest.

“You don’t trim or prune trees in mid-July in the middle of a heat wave,” Haywood said. “Those trees were butchered.”

Erin Conley, a former Netflix writer and coordinator for a different picket line at the Universal Studios Lot, said the WGA shortened picketing hours at some locations this week in response to high temperatures. Keeping the picket lines going each day is important to show the union’s resolve, Conley said. The WGA, which is pushing for better pay for writers and protections against outsourcing work to artificial intelligence, is entering its 12th week on strike.

“We’re there just to show the studios and just to show also the general public that we’re very determined to win this fight and get the deal that we deserve,” she said. “And we’re not going to let anything scare us off.”

That means keeping picketers cool in California’s dry heat on sidewalks with little shade, a challenge exacerbated by Universal’s tree pruning, Conley said.

“As a lot coordinator, my first priority is keeping our picket safe,” Conley said. “And anything that takes away our shade is making that job even more difficult.”

Other challenges have also tested their resolve. Construction work has forced Conley’s picket line on Lankershim Boulevard, along the western boundary of the Universal Studios Lot, off the sidewalk and onto the road, she said. The WGA is circulating a petition to construct a pedestrian lane on the street. SAG-AFTRA also described the construction on Lankershim Boulevard in its complaint to the National Labor Relations Board.

Stephens and Haywood said each roadblock has been met with the same response at the picket lines: a renewed determination to stay the course.

“We’re prepared to stay in this fight for as long as it takes,” Haywood said.

On Tuesday, Stephens returned to the Barham site as temperatures again reached 90 degrees. About 20 picketers, who had water bottles and small misting fans to keep them cool, fell into their usual routine, waving signs at the intersection and competing to see who could attract the most honks from passing cars. Spirits were high, Stephens said, as he would expect on a picket line of comedy writers.

“We’re all, you know, silly, funny people,” Stephens said. “But this, it’s given us something to be very serious about.”

Hollywood shutdown

What’s happening: Actors in the SAG-AFTRA union announced a decision to strike after negotiations over a new contract failed. They will join Hollywood writers, who have been on strike since early May. Here’s what we know and are trying to find out.

Why are Hollywood actors and writers on strike? The Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America say their demands are meant to protect their members as the entertainment industry is in an era of rapid change. The SAG strike could last for months, here are the rules about what actors can and can’t do.

What has the writers’ strike halted? With writers and actors both going on strike, the film industry will likely grind to a halt, alongside delays to movies and TV shows. Here’s what to know about the strikes’ impacts on Hollywood. This is only the second time in history a joint strike has happened, with the last occurrence in 1960 when Ronald Reagan led SAG.

Daniel Wu is a reporter on The Washington Post's Morning Mix team. He joined The Post as an intern on the Metro desk in 2022 and previously worked for the Seattle Times and the San Jose Mercury News. Twitter

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