About a third of the Insurance Corporation of B.C.'s unionized work force took to picket lines Wednesday in the union's latest effort to back contract demands.
About 1,300 members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union participated in the one-day strike. And almost 1,000 were from the insurance provider's head office, and nearby locations, in North Vancouver.
All together, the job action by the union's COPE 378 impacted 25 locations, including five driver licensing offices in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey and Burnaby, all of which closed for the day.
"[ICBC is] a highly successful company," said COPE 378 vice-president Jeff Gillies. "They've given increases to lawyers, auto-body shops – basically all of their business partners."
He also pointed out that ICBC is predicted to give the provincial government $1.2-billion by 2014.
"The reason it's successful is there's 4,600 people who work here, and they're not being fair with them."
In a four-year contract, the union is asking for a cost-of-living increase in each year along with a 2-per-cent wage increase in each of the third and fourth years. ICBC has offered a 1-per-cent wage increase in each of the third and fourth years with no cost-of-living increase.
The union said it is willing to negotiate the wage increase but ICBC is simply not offering enough to work with.
Members working in ICBC's claim centres have also told of "brutal" workloads, Mr. Gillies said.
Five estimators were fired from the Richmond claim centre last week, and one in March, for accepting estimates from certain auto-body shops by phone, rather than visually assessing the damage themselves, as per company policy.
"Our investigation has led us to understand that some managers told these members it was okay to do estimates over the phone because [the members] were too busy and it helped save time," COPE 378 spokeswoman Sage Aaron said in an e-mail.
"We've been told that different managers gave these instructions over the years."
The union has filed grievances with ICBC.
Mark Jan Vrem, a spokesman for the corporation, refused to comment on the matter and would not clarify whether managers had in fact instructed workers to accept estimates by phone.
"It is my understanding that the union has [or soon will] grieve the dismissals, so it would be inappropriate to comment prior to the grievance/arbitration process running its course," he wrote in an e-mail.
Adam Grossman, an ICBC spokesman speaking about the contract negotiations, said only the corporation is hopeful a resolution can be reached when the two parties return to the bargaining table later this month.
The unionized workers' last wage increase was in 2009. They have been without a contract for more than two years and in a strike position since April, employing targeted job action such as banning overtime, distributing leaflets at service locations and adding union slogans to their e-mail signatures.
Wednesday's job action comes five days after the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union and the provincial government announced they had reached a tentative agreement.
It will mean a 4-per-cent wage increase over two years for more than 25,000 government workers, with funds coming from savings found within existing budgets, Finance Minister Michael de Jong said in a statement.
The deal also ended the provincial government's controversial plan to privatize the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.
ICBC and COPE 378 are scheduled to return to the bargaining table on Oct. 23 and 24.