Unionized ICBC workers have voted 87 per cent in favour of strike action to back demands for hefty pay hikes totaling 10 per cent.
The old collective agreement expired in 2010 and the 4,600 members of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union have been bargaining without a contract for 15 months.
COPE local 378 vice-president Jeff Gillies said the strong vote reflects member “frustration” and said priority issues for the union are workload, wages and contracting out.
The union wants five per cent pay raises in each of 2012 and 2013, he said, while the employer wants a five-year contract with no pay increases.
“The corporation has been extremely profitable,” Gillies said. “It’s time to share some success with the workers.”
He cited the provincial government’s decision to siphon nearly $1.2 billion out of ICBC over a five-year period, and said auto body shops, lawyers and other contracted professionals are all receiving more from ICBC.
The Crown corporation, meanwhile, applied to the Labour Relations Board on April 19 to have parts of the ICBC workforce designated essential services, restricting the scope of any job action.
The filing says the designation is required to maintain the flow of rehabilitation and accident benefits to injured drivers, to register, license and insure vehicles, and to continue issuing and renewing driver’s licences, as well as revoking those of prohibited drivers.
It says there will be “irreparable harm” to the public without the ruling, along with serious financial damage to various individuals and businesses.
A ruling from the LRB is expected by late May.
Gillies was hopeful talks could resume in May in light of the strike mandate.
“As far as a full-blown strike, that’s a very remote possibility – it’s somewhere far off in negotiations,” he said, adding the union would instead first consider “strategic job action” to put pressure on the corporation and the government if talks fail.
“We’re not interested in putting drivers in the middle of this.”
The union also accuses the province of blocking full negotiations until a government-ordered review of ICBC announced last fall is complete.
ICBC spokesman Mark Jan Vrem confirmed the corporation has no mandate from Victoria to bargain on monetary issues pending the results of the review, but said non-monetary issues can still be negotiated.
He said the essential services application is the “responsible thing to do” but added ICBC hopes for a settlement without job action.