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ICBC takes union to court over altered e-mail signatures

Crash dummies are restrained during the simulation of a 15-km an hour crash test by the Insurance Corporation of B. C. Friday Aug. 27,1999.

Chuck Stoody/ The Canadian Press/Chuck Stoody/ The Canadian Press

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia is taking its union to court over its latest job-action tactic, alleging the union's improper use of company e-mail was "high-handed, flagrant and malicious."

In a statement of claim filed Monday in B.C. Supreme Court, ICBC says the union instructed its members to remove the trademarked phrase, "BUILDING TRUST. DRIVING CONFIDENCE." from company e-mail signatures, replacing it instead with "The B.C. Government is taking $1.2 billion out of ICBC's revenue," and "We work. You Drive. We both deserve better."

The new e-mail signature also links to the union's website.

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About 10,800 e-mails with the new sign-off were sent on Wednesday alone, according to the claim.

As of Thursday, 1,069 members had adopted the altered signature.

ICBC said the new signature violates copyright and trademark laws and creates the impression the corporation supports the anti-government stance. It also said the messages harm its relationship with customers.

"We're taking the position that that is an inappropriate – if not illegal – form of job action, to alter official ICBC communications and use company equipment to further the union's job action," said ICBC spokesman Mark Jan Vrem.

ICBC is seeking an injunction against the altered signatures as well as unspecified damages for trademark and copyright infringement and loss of business.

Meanwhile, the union believes ICBC is the one crossing the line by taking the matter to court.

"We think it's a really heavy-handed, over-the-top response," said Lori Mayhew, secretary treasurer of COPE 378, which represents about 4,600 workers with ICBC.

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"It's completely unwarranted. We took similar action in 2003 and they had no objection to it."

That year, members changed the e-mail tagline to: "Good people deserve a good contract."

"We don't see putting a tagline on e-mails as any different than our members wearing buttons in the workplace or handing leaflets to clients as they come in, and these are all accepted forms of job action," Ms. Mayhew said.

The parties are in an ongoing contract dispute and have had 23 bargaining sessions since January of 2011. The union voted 87 per cent in favour of a strike last month, but the Labour Relations Board ruled it could only take limited job action while the board sorts out what is and is not an essential service.

Union members have been without a contract agreement for two years and ICBC expects them to go five years without a wage increase, said local vice-president Jeff Gillies.

Members want to negotiate workload issues, improved benefits and wage increases, yearly cost-of-living increases and an additional one or two percentage points on top of that, Mr. Gillies said.

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Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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