MEMBERS of ICBC's unionized workforce are hoping a meeting with Minister Kevin Falcon next week will help break a bargaining impasse that led to a strike vote this week.
About 1,500 of the insurance corporation's 4,600 unionized employees work on the North Shore. The Crown corporation's head office is on West Esplanade in North Vancouver.
Workers voted 87 per cent in favour of a strike earlier this week, but won't be taking any immediate job action after ICBC requested that some workers be designated essential services.
The contract with ICBC employees ran out in June 2010, but bargaining has stalled over issues including wages, benefits and contracting out.
Jeff Gillies, vice-president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, which represents the employees, said his members are frustrated that ICBC is offering no wage increase over several years. "We just feel this is an unacceptable position based on the profitability of the company," he said.
Gillies said the company has given increases to brokers, autobody shops, lawyers and corporate executives while offering nothing to its workers. "It's a very difficult conversation to have," he said.
Gillies said the union was shocked at the end of last week, when ICBC requested that some workers be designated an essential service. "It's an insurance company," he said. "I don't think that is an essential service."
ICBC has argued in its application to the Labour Relations Board that members of the public could suffer "irreparable harm" if certain workers aren't deemed essential. Those include jobs processing injury claims, claims related to environmental damage and those involving cars that have been totalled in accidents.
In addition, staff who answer insurance brokers' questions should be deemed essential because without that "It will create an immediate risk to the financial welfare of individuals and businesses if they cannot drive."
ICBC has never applied for an essential services designation before but "we think it's the responsible thing to do," said Mark Van Jrem, communications manager with the corporation.
The corporation last took a strike vote in 2003. The last fullscale strike by ICBC employees was in 1981.
Gillies said once the Labour Relations Board reaches a decision, the union will start discussing options for "strategic job action" with its members.
Several further bargaining sessions are also scheduled for next month.