Posted June 13, 2017
The Toronto Zoo will reopen Thursday morning, five weeks after a strike closed the gates.
Board members of the city-owned attraction and research facility voted 5-3 Monday in favour of a new four-year contract with unionized staff, most of whom had approved the deal one day earlier.
The three councillors who voted against the contract had all wanted to accept an earlier union proposal and opposed zoo efforts to weaken workers’ job-security provisions.
Contract talks failed May 11 partly over the zoo’s initial stance that only full-time permanent staff with 11 or more years’ service be allowed to keep protection from losing their jobs to contracting out. The union proposed that only staff with less than four years’ service be vulnerable to contracting out.
The union broke an extended stalemate by successfully proposing workers get the protection at the eight-year mark.
Christine McKenzie, a zookeeper and president of CUPE Local 1600, said her 380 members, including 183 full-timers, are anxious to get back on the job.
“I think they’re relieved that the strike is over, they are anxious to get back to work and see their animals again,” McKenzie said in an interview.
“It will take a couple of days to get the zoo back in shape. We are looking forward to getting (threatened and endangered animal) conservation programs back up to full speed.
“It was a hard battle, but I’m very proud of our members for standing up to the city; I firmly believe provisions they were looking for would have been extremely damaging to the zoo,” by risking the replacement of highly trained staff with contract workers fit only for an attraction, not a research-breeding facility, said McKenzie.
Councillor Paul Ainslie, chair of the zoo board, said the deal is good for taxpayers, workers and the zoo.
“I’m very happy with all the work our non-union staff did during the strike; the animals didn’t suffer and we even had some births,” Ainslie said. “I’m looking forward to having our unionized staff back on the job and getting our conservation programs geared up.”
The zoo says any people who had family or seasonal passes at the start of the strike will receive all days lost to the closure, plus an additional 25 days “to thank them for their ongoing support and patience.
“We will (also) be sending out a message to schools indicating class field trips can resume as of June 15 to coincide with the re-opening of the Zoo.”
Peak summer season was fast approaching for the zoo, which has struggled in recent years with sagging attendance and a rising city subsidy that last year hit $12.6 million. Just over 1.3 million people visited in 2016.
Ainslie acknowledged that the prolonged closure will mean a financial hit for the zoo.
“We’re hoping that attendance will rebound,” he said. “Let’s hope for a long, hot, sunny summer.”
Article by David Rider for the Toronto Star