Universal under investigation after cutting trees that shaded SAG-AFTRA protesters

The Los Angeles City Comptroller’s office is investigating after NBCUniversal severely trimmed a row of trees near its studio, where SAG-AFTRA members picketed company executives to eliminate shade during the scorching heat.

“Trees are essential to provide the residents of Angelenos with significant environmental and public health benefits, especially during heatwaves,” said Los Angeles City Superintendent Kenneth Mejia. wrote on Twitter.

Last week, 160,000 SAG-AFTRA actors and other media have joined 11,000 Writers Guild of America (WGA) members who have been on the picket line since May as talks between the union and the Film and Television Producers Alliance, which represents the studios, broke down. But due to excessive heat in some parts of the country, strike organizers are warning participants to stay hydrated and use sunscreen. Earlier this week, SAG-AFTRA interrupted its pickets for Disney and Warner Bros., citing “heavy heat in Los Angeles.”

Monday comedian Chris Stevens tweeted an image of a row of trees, all with heavily trimmed branches. “Thanks to the good folks at @UniversalPics for trimming the trees that provided shade for our picket line just ahead of the 30 degree week,” he wrote.

But NBCUniversal denies it was malicious.

“We understand that the pruning of the ficus trees we did on Barham Boulevard created unintended problems for the demonstrators, it was not our intention,” an NBCUniversal spokesperson said in a statement to CNN. NBCUniversal owns Universal Pictures. “In collaboration with licensed arborists, we prune these trees every year at this time of the year to keep their canopies bright for the high wind season.”

But Mejia said these trees are managed by the city, not NBCUniversal, and added that trees should be pruned every five years, not annually.

The Los Angeles Department of Public Works also told CNN in a statement that the city has not issued any tree pruning permits outside of Universal’s offices.

An NBCUniversal spokesperson added that the company is working to offer additional accommodations such as folding tents and water. “We continue to communicate openly with union leaders on the ground to work together during this time,” they said.

Temperatures in Los Angeles will drop to 90 degrees below zero this week, according to the National Weather Service. The agency says exposure to direct sunlight can raise the “felt” temperature by up to 15 degrees. Without shade, picketers are likely to be at risk of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Attrition seems to be the key strategy in this fight.

Earlier this month, anonymous studio executives told trade publication Deadline that the mainstream studios are set to “[breaking] WGA. They added that the plan “is to let things drag on until union members start losing their apartments and houses.”

In response, actor Ron Perlman took to Instagram Live, saying in part: “There are many ways to lose your home. Some of them are related to finances, and some are related to karma.

Perlman later clarified his comments in another post, saying, “As you can imagine…someone wanting this kind of harm to people in the same industry they call their own will get a backlash,” he said. “I don’t wish harm on anyone.”

He urged studio executives to “keep some humanity in all of this… There has to be dignity if we’re going to hold a mirror and reflect the human experience, which is what we do as actors and writers. And not only us. Drivers, cameramen, costumes, make-up artists, hairdressers, electricians, production designers.

Pearlman called the strike “a symptom of corporate America’s callousness,” adding that it was “about human dignity.”

Labor disputes in the US have historically been long and at times violent. From using union-busting Pinkerton detectives to infiltrate and physically attack striking workers to allowing the federal government to send troops to end strikes, employers have used a variety of tactics to intimidate organizers and damage morale. But the strikes have largely paid off for the workers. For example, the WGA and SAG strikes in 1960 led to increased balances and the formation of pension and health plans for members.

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