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Tentative agreement reached in zoo negotiations

A tentative agreement has been reached between the Toronto Zoo and its union after talks continued past the 12:01 a.m. Friday deadline.

The last-minute deal means it’s likely the much-anticipated panda exhibit will open as scheduled on May 18.

“We’re in the process of reviewing the framework of what appears to be a tentative agreement,” Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) spokesperson Kevin Wilson said early Friday morning.

“Members should report to work.”

The agreement is expected to be ratified next week, Wilson said. No details will be released until the agreement is ratified.

CUPE Local 1600 represents more than 400 zoo workers who have been without a contract since February.  The zoo’s management had requested a “no board” report from the Ministry of Labour in early April.

Under Ontario labour law, either party could have triggered a work stoppage 17 days after the report was issued. Although CUPE has said it wouldn’t strike, the zoo could still have locked 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 were among the issues of contention.

The high-profile panda exhibit — featuring two animals on loan from China — is to expected to draw huge crowds.

Five-year-old Er Shun and her prospective mate, four-year-old Da Mao, arrived in late March aboard the “Panda Express,” a specially outfitted FedEx Express Canada plane branded with an image of a panda on its exterior. They have been in quarantine since their arrival.

The pair will be living in Canada for the next 10 years, splitting their time equally between the Toronto Zoo and the Calgary zoo.

Their arrival, the first panda visit in 24 years, marked the realization of a deal reached when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited China just over a year ago.

With files from The Canadian Press