cut trees near sidewalk in LA (l) man speaking in front of tree with caption 'you do not need to be a tree expert to know that that is messed up' (c) Universal Studios archway with sign and gate (r)

Idealphotographer/Shutterstock @ChrisStephensMD/Twitter @lucasthelorax/TikTok (Licensed) Remix by Caterina Cox

‘There is no non-malicious, practical reason to have cut those trees’: Universal Studios accused of pruning trees to expose picket lines to 90-degree heat

The studio may have broken an L.A. city 'tree law' in the process.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 19, 2023

Picket lines have been extraordinarily effective during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, shutting down film sets and drawing attention to the strikers’ campaign for fair pay.

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s movie studios are doing their utmost to get rid of the picketers. NBCUniversal was already accused of obstructing picket lines by clogging the sidewalk with construction materials. The WGA’s official complaint said the studio “forced picketers to patrol in busy streets with significant car traffic where two picketers have already been struck by a car.”

Then on Monday, a striker accused Universal of another underhanded tactic: Trimming the sidewalk trees so picketers had no protection from the L.A. sun.

While this tree-trimming could theoretically be coincidental, most commenters agreed it was an example of “cartoonishly evil” strike-breaking tactics.

A TikTok tree expert named @lucasthelorax even chimed in to explain why “there is no non-malicious, practical reason to have cut those trees like that.” Sidewalk trees are there to provide shade and reduce temperatures nearby. If you cut them during the hottest time of year, they can’t do their jobs—and you risk damaging the trees themselves.

As these tree photos spread on Twitter and TikTok, some commenters had another bone to pick with Universal Pictures. If the studio had indeed hired someone to trim these trees, then this wasn’t just an unethical act. It was potentially illegal because the trees are city property.

It was time to invoke “tree law.”

As it turns out, Tree Law Twitter was correct. A day after the original tree tweet, LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia tweeted that these are “LA City managed street trees.” The trimming is now under investigation.

A Universal spokesperson told Deadline that it was “not our intention” to trim the trees during the strike.

“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,” they said.

So far, the studios’ key tactics in this labor dispute have involved looking as cruel and immovable as possible—even as the strikers gain more sympathy and support from the public. This situation very much plays into that narrative.

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*First Published: Jul 19, 2023, 10:30 am CDT