Toronto Zoo likely to remain closed over May long weekend as strike continues

Back on May 11, roughly 400 CUPE Local 1600 employees hit the picket line, and the zoo has been closed to the public since then.

400 workers hit the picket line last week, zoo remains closed to public

Roughly 400 workers at the Toronto Zoo have been on strike since May 11. (John Rieti/CBC)

Negotiations are still going amid a worker strike at the Toronto Zoo — meaning families likely won't be able to visit the pandas, penguins and pythons this May long weekend.

On May 11, roughly 400 CUPE Local 1600 employees hit the picket line, and the zoo has been closed to the public since. In the meantime, its management team is caring for the zoo's 6,000 animals.

During a more than three-hour meeting on Friday night, the zoo's board received updates about the collective bargaining negotiations, with most of that discussion happening behind closed doors.

Coun. Paul Ainslie, chair of the Board of the Directors for the Toronto Zoo, said the board "fine-tuned and finessed" where negotiations should go during the meeting at City Hall.

"I'm hoping very soon the strike at the zoo will be over," he said.

But with negotiations continuing, a resolution before the long weekend seems out of reach.

Workers have said they're worried that zoo management wants to erode job security provisions, but management says union proposals are 'unaffordable.' (Linda Ward/CBC )

Union wants permanent, full-time jobs to stay

"We have told the negotiators that we're willing to resume talking at any point," said local union president Christine McKenzie following the meeting. "That may very well happen tonight, but we'll see."

The union has said they're worried the zoo's board of management — which includes four city councillors — is trying to strip away job security language and avoid renewing a clause that guarantees a minimum workforce of 150, while management says the union proposals are unaffordable.

"The union wants to see… good-quality, permanent, full-time jobs stay at the zoo," said McKenzie, adding it's for both safety reasons and to make sure the zoo continues to be a "national leader in conservation science."

Ainslie said the board is trying to respect the local union needs and the needs of the city. 

The zoo receives an annual subsidy from the City of Toronto of about $11.6 million.