04/25/2012 02:29 EDT | Updated 06/25/2012 05:12 EDT

ICBC workers vote 87% in favour of strike

ICBC workers have voted 87 per cent in favour of strike, but union leaders say a walkout at the provincial insurance corporation remains unlikely.

Jeff Gillies, the vice president of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union Local 378, which represents the 4,600 ICBC employees, says he expects the mandate will improve the union position at a bargaining session scheduled next month.

"We're actually hoping that the strong strike vote actually changes things at the bargaining table, changes the atmosphere and possibly gets us back bargaining," said Gillies.

"A walkout is probably a very remote possibility. What we're interested in doing is consulting with our members and figuring out what the best course of action is with regards to job action."

ICBC spokesman Mark Jan Vrem is also hopeful both sides will avoid a strike, despite the vote.

"It comes as no surprise to us. We intend to continue negotiating with the union and hopefully be able to resolve all of the issues at the bargaining table, without the need for job action," said Vrem.

"This seems to be pretty normal operating procedure when it comes to bargaining these days, that the union asks its members for a strike mandate, they get that mandate then they take that to the table and negotiations continue," he said.

Essential services designation sought

Earlier this week, ICBC made an application to the Labour Relations Board to have some ICBC services deemed essential.

The union believes ICBC wants about 500 workers declared essential in claims customer services, driver services, at the contact centre where drivers call in their claims and in other departments.

"We were really in disbelief about that essential services order. We feel that it's a very heavy hammer, when it was issued to us we hadn't even completed our strike mandate," said Gillies.

Many union members are angry ICBC has reportedly offered no wage increase in its next five-year contract.

The main issues in the contract dispute include workload, contracting out and wages. The union has been without a contract for two years.