NBCU Puts up Tents to Shade Strikers on Picket Lines Days After Trimmed Trees Spark Outcry

Branches that had been providing relief amid 95-degree temps were nearly bare of leaves after being pruned over the weekend

universal trees pruned strike
These trees once shaded SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikers at Universal picket lines. (Chris Stevens/Twitter)

NBCUniversal has erected a group of standing-room tents outside the studio in Burbank after it trimmed trees last week that had been providing shade to the striking and picketing members of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA unions.

Striking picketers arrived to sidewalks this week outside NBCU that were suddenly in full glare of the sun. Trees that had been providing shade amid hot summer days along Barham Blvd. were pruned and nearly bare of leaves.

Hollywood writer and WGA strike captain Darrin Dortch told The Ankler that he worked with NBCU security to get the tents put up.

“It’s obviously getting much hotter now, so we have these tents up so that when people are out here with their signs they have a spot here with some tents and with some misters, and that gives us a little relief,” said Dortch, a writer with credits including “Claws” and “The Kings of Napa.” “But we still miss our shaded trees, though. Because they were very cool and they gave us even more shade.”

Dortch said there were plans to put up more tents outside NBCU as temperatures increased beyond the 95 degrees it had reached in recent days.

After widespread reaction on social media, NBCU acknowledged trimming the trees but denied there was an intent to remove a source of shade for picketers, saying it was routine maintenance the studio undertakes annually. The city of Los Angeles said the studio does not have the jurisdiction to prune the trees and that it was looking into the matter.

Dortch added the unions also had petitions with more than 15,000 signatures for the halting of construction on nearby sidewalks that NBCUniversal allegedly started on after the writers’ guild began its strike and picketing efforts in May.

Earlier this week, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA also filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against NBCUniversal, accusing the studio of blocking pedestrian access to one of its main gates to interfere with picket lines.

In the complaints, the writers and actors’ guilds accuse the studio of blocking access to sidewalks next to its Lankershim Blvd. gate with fences erected for a construction project adjacent to the street. In the process, the studio has “interfered with, coerced, and restrained employees” from taking part in legally protected strike actions, the complaint says.

NBCU said in a statement that the construction was legal.

“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,” NBCUniversal said in the statement. “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.”