The Sweet Smell of Asphalt
Finally, NBC Universal is where the sidewalk begins.
Notching an important partial victory to preserve the health and safety of picketers at NBC Universal, WGA saw the creation of new sidewalks along Lankershim Boulevard this week giving our members and supporters the space to once again safely walk between most of Universal’s five gates on Lankershim.
The temporary asphalt walkways installed between Cahuenga and the Telemundo Gate and between the Telemundo and Jimmy Stewart gates represent progress, Guild leaders say. We are still waiting for a series of protective K-rails (concrete barriers often seen on roadsides) covering the length of Lankershim and Guild legal counsel have been notified that NBC Universal has submitted its proposal to install these K-rails to the City of Los Angeles.
Still, the improvements installed over the last 24 hours are cause for celebration. At a rally Tuesday alongside leaders from SAG-AFTRA and U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez, WGA Negotiating Committee David A. Goodman saluted the NBC Universal lot coordinators, captains and staff who have held the lines during the past three months as ongoing construction has threatened the safety of our members.
“You are heroes, with passion and empathy and grit and wit,” Goodman said, addressing the crowd of hundreds of picketers. “You said to the employers, ‘We are not going anywhere until we get the deal we need.’ The lot coordinators and captains and WGA staff saw that our picketers’ lives were in danger, and they demanded that NBC Universal do something about it. And they didn’t give up.”
“We have been told that this is the hardest lot and that our captains and picketers are hard core, which they absolutely are,” agreed NBC Universal lot coordinator Erin Conley. “But we didn’t sign up to be organizers at this lot because we thought it would be easy. We signed up because this is a crucial moment in the labor movement, and the issues we have been facing as we picket NBC Universal are a microcosm of the entire workforce in this country.”
The sidewalk destruction was not an issue when writers first came to the picket lines on May 2. During the first week of the strike, all five gates on Lankershim Boulevard were accessible on foot via one continuous sidewalk.
However, as the strike entered its second week, a large construction project began gradually taking away portions of the sidewalk. By week six, the east side of Lankershim contained no sidewalk connecting any of the studio gates leaving picketers to weave their way through a lane of traffic that is blocked only when construction is active. In a separate controversial action, Universal butchered a row of Ficus trees on Barham Boulevard that provided shade to those who picket at Universal’s Gate 8
In addition to filing a joint legal grievance with SAG-AFTRA against NBC Universal with the National Labor Relations Board over the danger caused by the sidewalk demolition, WGA took its fight to our supporters in the community via a petition that garnered more than 26,000 signatures.
That member activism and legal and public pressure helped sway NBC Universal to finally act to improve the conditions.
“The lovely aroma of fresh asphalt wafting down Lankershim right now is the direct result of that collective action,” Conley said.
Standing alongside fellow members of the SAG-AFTRA Negotiating Committee, National Secretary Treasurer Joely Fisher reaffirmed her union’s support for the safety improvements.
“I too was here during week one where there was a way to walk all the way from end to end, and I was disheartened by the fact that that had been covered up,” said Fisher.
Gomez, who represents California’s 34th District, encouraged striking writers and actors to continue their fight against big corporations that engage in shady practices.
“I’ve dealt with corporations for a long time,” said Gomez, a longtime labor organizer. “First they ignore you. Then they try to intimidate you, and that’s what they’re doing now. Your job is not to give up, to show each other respect and to have each other’s backs, because that’s what it’s about.”
A Frickin' Sweet Picket at Fox
During the 2007-08 strike, WGAW member and Family Guy Executive Producer Seth MacFarlane – using the voice of Stewie Griffin – reminded striking writers assembled at Fox plaza that if they stick with their union, “victory will be ours!”
Speaking outside Fox Studios Tuesday during a Family Guy writers reunion picket, MacFarlane acknowledged that, while the business has changed substantially in the last 15 years, labor actions like the current strike are needed to bring about meaningful change.
“Somehow it always seems like this is what it takes,” McFarlane said. “In any labor dispute, it always comes to this, and in our case, it really is going to be worth it.”
“There are a lot of people who are hurting, a lot of people who are really feeling like they can’t make a living, living paycheck to paycheck,” he continued. “I’ve been in this business for so many years. Through the talent I’ve seen and the people I’ve worked with, and the way writers and actors have made what I do better, that would be indicative of their value and their being very deserving of the fairest treatment that they can be given.”
Writers and actors from the series joined MacFarlane and fellow WGAW and SAG-AFTRA member Alex Borstein for Family Guy Day. Signs, T-shirts and apparel featured characters from the show with Stewie Griffin holding up a WGA strike sign from specially-created T-shirts and pins.
A member of both the WGAW and SAG-AFTRA, MacFarlane noted the historic occurrence of the two unions sharing the picket line. He praised actors and writers for being able to “do anything.”
“It’s a pleasure to work with somebody who can do something that you can’t,” MacFarlane said. “I find that every writer and every actor I work with has some little drum solo that they do. They can do something that I can’t that makes our collective work better, and we all have to share in the fruits of that.”
Earlier in the day, Variety reported that MacFarlane recently donated $1 million to the Entertainment Community Fund (ECF) to provide assistance to industry workers who have been affected by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.