Toronto Zoo closed ‘until further notice’ as unionized staff go on strike

The Toronto Zoo has closed to visitors after the union for Toronto Zoo workers announced its 362 members are going on strike.

CUPE Local 1600, which represents zookeepers, horticulturists, concession and ride operators, trades and maintenance workers, public relations and administrative staff, was in a legal strike position as of Thursday.

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“We are incredibly disappointed to have to take strike action, but the Toronto Zoo’s refusal to move on job security left us with no alternative,” Local 1600 president Christine McKenzie said in a news release early Thursday morning.

“No one on this bargaining committee wanted a strike, but you cannot have a world-leading research, conservation and education facility by consigning hundreds of workers to precarious, insecure jobs that don’t support communities.”

READ MORE: Baby animal boom, good weather increases attendance at Toronto Zoo

Picket lines were established at the zoo’s entrances Thursday morning and workers have been asked to report for picket duty during their regularly scheduled shifts.

Jennifer Tracey, senior director of marketing and communications for the zoo, told The Morning Show on AM640 Thursday that zoo management was “taken aback” by the news that workers would be going on strike.

“We had been presenting them with a series of proposals to address the number one issue that they identified, which was job security,” she said.

LISTEN: Jennifer Tracey of the Toronto Zoo joins The Morning Show 

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McKenzie said union bargaining committee members are ready to resume negotiations and called for increased negotiating flexibility by the Toronto Zoo Board of Management.

“We have numerous animals on the verge of giving birth, a new health centre supposed to open, and thousands of animals that won’t be getting the level of care they should be getting,” McKenzie said.

Tracey said the zoo’s priority Thursday morning is implementing its contingency plan to care for the animals. She said “highly qualified” non-union staff remain on the job, including vets, wildlife care personnel and nutritionists.

Tracey said union employees are already well compensated, with a pension plan and benefits, weeks of vacation and more than 100 sick days per year.

“The union’s demands were simply unaffordable, and they don’t reflect the financial realities facing the zoo or other settlements that were reached within the City of Toronto,” she said.

With files from Marianne Dimain and Neil Kumar