Skip to main content

The panda Da Mao peers out of his container as it is unloaded from a transport jet on March 25, 2013 in Toronto. Two bears, on loan from China, will spend time at both the Toronto and Calgary Zoos.Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Zoo may be facing some labour troubles as it prepares to open its much-anticipated giant panda exhibit next month.

The union representing more than 400 zoo staff is warning of a lockout after the zoo's management requested a "no board" report from the Ministry of Labour last week.

Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1600 president Christine McKenzie says the union is "troubled and mystified" by the zoo's decision.

Under Ontario labour law, once the "no board" report is issued, either party can trigger a work stoppage 17 days later, which means the zoo will be in a legal lockout position at 12:01 a.m. on April 26.

"This is troubling because the Zoo appears to be putting the entire spring season at risk, including the upcoming panda display by putting us on a fast track to a lockout," McKenzie said in a statement.

"Management has essentially refused to even consider our proposals to address their concerns, and outright refused to consider our own priorities."

CUPE Local 1600 represents a range of zoo workers including horticulturalists, maintenance staff, zookeepers, trades people, animal nutrition assistants and veterinary technicians.

The panda exhibit — featuring two giant pandas on loan from China — is to open May 18 and is expected to bring huge crowds to the zoo.

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.

Interact with The Globe