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Zoo union has ‘no intention’ of striking

Giant panda Da Mao on a flight from China to Toronto, March 25, 2013. COURTESY FED EX CANADA TWITTER FEED

The union representing more than 400 Toronto Zoo workers says it has made progress in talks with management and has no plans to strike.

“We’ve been very frustrated that there was little movement in the past few weeks, but we are encouraged that the zoo seems to be hearing us and engaged in the back and forth conversation that’s necessary for collective bargaining to be a success,” Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1600 President Christine McKenzie said at a news conference on Thursday.

“We have absolutely no intention of striking. We are committed to remaining at the bargaining table as long as it takes to get a fair agreement.”

McKenzie said CUPE presented an offer to the zoo earlier in the day and had been promised a written response.

She said an agreement is “within reach.”

Negotiations began in February and the zoo’s management requested a “no board” report from the Ministry of Labour in early April.

Under Ontario labour law, either party can trigger a work stoppage 17 days after the report is issued. Although CUPE has said it won’t strike, the zoo could still lock out its employees as of 12:01 a.m. Friday.

The union says cuts to bereavement leave, changes to sick pay and benefits, and job security are among the issues of contention.

“We’re simply trying to hold on to what we already have now and fend off some very offensive proposals that the employer is insisting on, mostly contained within our benefits,” McKenzie said.

A high-profile panda exhibit — featuring two animals on loan from China — is scheduled to open May 18.

With files from The Canadian Press