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ICBC workers picket recently outside the crown corporation's headquarters in North Vancouver.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Unionized adjusters at the Insurance Corp. of B.C. will reduce workloads to 1996 levels in the union's latest effort to back contract demands.

This means the workers will take on fewer new claims, as of Thursday, but provide better service, said COPE 378 President David Black.

"It's an attempt on our part to re-balance the work and to re-prioritize customer service," he said.

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"The unfortunate side for drivers is it will likely mean it will take them longer to get their first appointment with an ICBC adjuster."

The 1996 year is significant because that is when a joint union-management committee last completed a workload study. Adjusters have been tasked with, on average, twice as much work since then, Mr. Black insisted. An increase in paperwork and meetings takes time away from customer service, he said.

Of 777 adjusters at 42 affected locations province-wide, 646 will be participating in the job action, according to the union. The remaining 131 have been designated essential under an interim order by the Labour Relations Board and will work as normal.

The effects of the ongoing job action will be cumulative, Mr. Black noted.

The problem of workload is one of several concerns the union has brought forth to its employer in ongoing negotiations for a new collective agreement.

In a four-year contract, it is also 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. The union, which has been without a contract since June 2010, says ICBC has offered a 1-per-cent increase in each of the third and fourth years with no cost-of-living increase.

While ICBC has kept most of its bargaining details at the table, spokesman Adam Grossman said a new workload study will be part of the new contract settlement.

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The union voted 87 per cent in favour of a strike in April and has had three strike days in the past month.

It has also employed targeted job action throughout the summer, such as banning overtime, distributing leaflets at service locations and adding union slogans to e-mail signatures.

Meanwhile, five estimators were fired from the Richmond claim centre in September, 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.

ICBC would not comment on the matter, but COPE 378 spokeswoman Sage Aaron said a union investigation revealed "some managers told these members it was okay to do estimates over the phone because [the members] were too busy and it helped wave time."

Without an estimator evaluating a claim in person, a body shop could potentially pad repair costs.

The union has filed grievances on four of the six terminations so far.

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The parties are scheduled to return to the bargaining table on Oct. 23 and 24.

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