Writers and actors picketing at NBCUniversal are up in arms after the studio clipped a row of ficus trees outside its office this weekend, removing much-needed shade for sidewalk demonstrators amid a California heat wave.
LA city comptroller Kenneth Mejia said his office is investigating the incident, while the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA filed labor complaints yesterday (July 18) alleging that NBCUniversal is attempting to interfere with their strike activities, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The studio claimed the pruning had nothing to do with the picket line or the strike. “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,” NBCUniversal said in a statement first reported by Deadline. “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.”
However, another element adds to the suspicions around the timing of the botanical effort, which has earned the moniker of “Treegate.” The trees lining Barham Boulevard, which have provided shade amid 90°F (32°C) temperatures, are reportedly the only trees in the area to have gotten a trim. Pine trees on the opposite side of the boulevard were not cut back, and a row of pepper trees in the vicinity were also undisturbed, Deadline reported.
LA authorities are now on the case. “Our Office is investigating the tree trimming that occurred outside Universal Studios where workers, writers, and actors are exercising their right to picket. The trimmed trees are LA City managed street trees,” LA city comptroller Mejia said in a tweet.
The tree incident isn’t the only activity near the studio that has attracted controversy: An NBCUniversal construction project has also frustrated protestors. In their complaints filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA allege that NBCUniversal intentionally blocked off picketing areas with construction fencing, endangering protestors.
The WGA complaint contends the fencing has “forced picketers to patrol in busy streets with significant car traffic where two picketers have already been struck by a car.”
NBCUniversal said it believes it has not violated any federal laws. “We will cooperate with respect to any inquiries by the National Labor Relations Board on this issue,” the studio said in a statement, as reported by Reuters. “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.”