A panda was spotted outside Toronto City Hall last Thursday. The cold, windy and wet weather didn’t seem to bother him much. He had more important things to worry about.
A Toronto Zoo worker, who was wearing a panda costume, was there to support his fellow co-workers. They could be locked out of their jobs at the end of April.
Toronto Zoo workers and members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) were at city hall to raise awareness about the potential lockout they are facing. According to Christine McKenzie, president of CUPE local 1600, management at the zoo is pushing workers towards a lockout.
“We’ve made it very clear to them that we want to talk, that we’ve always wanted to talk,” McKenzie said.
Management filed for a no-board report last week, meaning that the zoo will be in legal lockout position at the end of April.
Zoo officials said in a statement the parties have reached an impasse.
“Although the parties have been meeting regularly at the bargaining table since February, conciliation with CUPE local 1600 has not worked so far,” said Jennifer Tracey, the zoo’s senior director of marketing, communications and partnerships.
McKenzie said she found that statement perplexing.
“To say that we’re at an impasse would kind of imply that we’ve been having some conversations and we really haven’t,” McKenzie adds.
McKenzie said the main areas of disagreement stem from a concession package that management brought forward at the beginning of bargaining, which included cuts to bereavement pay, sick pay and job security. Although the union came back with what it calls a modest package, McKenzie says conversations with management have not been constructive.
We’ve made it very clear to them that we want to talk, that we’ve always wanted to talk.
— Christine McKenzie
Zoo staff is not only worried about themselves, but also the well-being of the animals they care for.
“Anybody who goes into a zookeeping job … you do it because you love looking after those animals,” said Jennifer Martin, zookeeper at the Eurasia section of the zoo. “To be put in a situation where you know somebody else may have to look after those animals, it’s difficult.”
The giant pandas are the ones making headlines these days, but all the animals would be affected by the lockout. McKenzie mentioned it is mating season for the Sumatran tiger and penguin chicks were just born. If zoo staff are locked out, managerial staff would have to take care of the animals. Although a lot of managerial staff have previous care-taking experience, many of them haven’t done so in years.
“There is certainly a high level of expertise and experience in the work force that cannot be replicated at the management level,” McKenzie said.
The purpose of the rally was to let the public know that the union is seeking a deal that is fair to them, who are the public owners of the zoo, added McKenzie.