NBCUniversal accused of meddling with picket line conditions by blocking sidewalk, cutting shade trees

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NBCUniversal is facing complaints from two striking unions over conditions that labor bosses say is making forming picket lines outside of Universal Studios in Los Angeles more challenging.

The first complaint, which has led to a formal grievance with the National Labor Relations Board, was filed by the Writers Guild of America.

In the filing, WGA claims NBCU is interfering with its right to picket by obstructing a portion of the sidewalk adjoining the studio’s large lot.

It also cites safety concerns of having its lines spill out onto Lankershim Blvd. Although the picket lines vary day to day, there have been cases of several hundred workers participating.

NBCU, meanwhile, denies any wrongdoing and feels it is in compliance with all labor laws, according to a statement.

The company points out that the sidewalk is being blocked by ongoing construction.

WGA says that two picketers have been struck by vehicular traffic, though it was not clear how severe these incidents were. It also says that NBCU is refusing to provide a protective barrier to create a makeshift sidewalk that its picketers and other pedestrians could use during the work.

It is common for construction crews to carve out a portion of traffic lanes or street parking when a project requires closing a sidewalk.

The complaint is still pending a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.

Meanwhile, social media also lit up with claims that NBCU had a row of ficus trees on Barham Blvd. trimmed, severely reducing the shade for picketers to stay cool under during temperatures in the 90s.

While no formal complaint has been filed over this issue, many are questioning the timing of the maintenance.

The City of Los Angeles says it is investigating the trimming and noted that while the trees’ maintenance falls under the purview of the city, private businesses can apply for permits to perform trimming and other maintenance.

NBCU says that the trimming is done annually around this time of the year in accordance to consultation with arborists and that it did not intend to reduce the shade for striking workers.

It also added that it is working to implement some solutions to provide at least some shade, though it was not clear what it might do.

Like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA is also on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. AMPTP is a group that negotiates labor agreements between trade unions and major studios, including NBCU’s.

During labor disputes, it is common for striking workers to picket outside prominent physical locations of the businesses they work for. In this case, studio lots are a logical choice, even though the labor movement is technically not directly tied to a specific studio. Similar lines have formed outside of other major properties owned by AMPTP members.

In general, laws allow picket lines to form on sidewalks, which are largely considered public spaces, unlike the facilities and lots, which are private property.

The law generally allows private organizations to ban striking workers from picketing private property without penalty.