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May 6, 2014 - No. 53

Alberta Government Forced to Retreat on Anti-Labour Bills

No Means No! Hands Off Our Pensions! Time to Step Up the Fight!

Hundreds of workers rally at the Alberta Legislature May 1, 2014 for May Day, calling on the government to stop attacks on workers' rights and pensions, while celebrating the Alberta Union of Public Employee’s recent tentative agreement for government workers. Speakers also expressed solidarity with the many migrant workers at the rally, who have been affected by recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Alberta Government Forced to Retreat on Anti-Labour Bills
No Means No! Hands Off Our Pensions! Time to Step Up the Fight!
Government Stands Down on Bill 46 Attacking Public Sector Bargaining Rights

Big Gains for Energy Monopolies, More Austerity Demanded of Workers
Defeat the Anti-Social Agenda! - George Allen

Harper Henchman Vies for Leadership of Alberta PCs
Harper's New Fifth Column Strategy in Alberta? - Dougal MacDonald

Albertans Pay Their Respects on April 28
Step Up Organizing to Enforce the Right to Safe and Healthy Working Conditions!
Tell the Alberta Government That Farm Workers Count - Devin Yeager, Speech at Edmonton Day of Mourning
Federation of Labour Calls for Action on Worker Safety

Alberta Government Forced to Retreat on Anti-Labour Bills

No Means No! Hands Off Our Pensions!
Time to Step Up the Fight!

May Day at Alberta Legislature. (AUPE)

Public sector workers and their allies have forced the government to make a retreat in their assault on security in retirement. Bills 9 and 10 -- which respectively target public-sector and private-sector defined-benefit plans -- will not be passed by the Legislature during its current sitting. Both bills will be referred to the Standing Committee on Alberta's Economic Future. Public hearings will be held during the summer and the Committee will report back to the Legislature during the fall sitting which is scheduled to begin on October 27. At that time the PCs will have elected a new leader who will have been sworn in as Premier.

Congratulations to all the workers, unions and their allies who have been waging this fight to defend security in retirement. The government has been forced to make a retreat in the face of months of opposition including rallies and pickets, a deluge of letters, calls and meetings with MLAs, petitions and other actions.

"It's clear that Albertans are making themselves heard. They've stood up for their pensions. They've let their MLAs know that these Bills are unacceptable," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said. "Together, the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on these plans have made the government pause. Now we have to keep working together to stop the attack on defined-benefit plans."

The announcement that the bill would be referred to committee and that public hearings would take place came after the PCs reached an agreement with the opposition parties. Alberta New Democrat leader Brian Mason said in a statement that the opposition parties agreed to end their filibuster which would allow Bill 9 to pass second reading. In return, the government agreed to refer the bill and hold public hearings.

The fight is far from over. No doubt the PCs want to get Bills 9 and 10 off the radar while they fight it out over who will be the next PC Leader. Nominations begin May 15 and at that time any cabinet members running for leader will be expected to step down. This likely put pressure on the PCs to get legislation passed before that time. Imposing closure was an option, but not consistent with the bleating currently coming from the PC caucus about how they are "poor little lambs who've lost our way." But like the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing, they have not abandoned their anti-social, anti-worker agenda for one minute, and will try to find another way to impose it.

Once again, stepping up the resistance is what is needed. Public hearings provide the opportunity to broaden the fight to defend the pensions we have and fight for pensions for all, and to bring many more Albertans into the fight. The Alberta government must be forced not only to withdrawn Bills 9 and 10 but also to support expansion of the Canada Pension Plan.

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Government Stands Down on Bill 46 Attacking
Public Sector Bargaining Rights

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) announced on April 28, that a tentative agreement covering 22,000 government service workers had been signed. These workers were the direct target of the government's anti-worker Bill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act. That same day the Alberta government sent notice to the courts that it would not be proceeding with the appeal of the injunction AUPE was granted against Bill 46. As Bill 46 applied only to AUPE and only for the four-year period covered by the tentative agreement, it is effectively dead once an agreement has been ratified.

"We now have a tentative agreement that we can recommend to our members for ratification with our heads held high," said AUPE President Guy Smith.

"We always preferred a negotiated settlement to arbitration. A negotiated settlement allows our members to exercise their right to vote on the terms of the agreement that will directly affect their working lives for years to come," he said.

"The union's work is not finished. We will be continuing our strong advocacy on the pension changes proposed in Bill 9, and to undo the restrictions on members' freedoms in Bill 45, and more," said Smith.

"Bill 9 still poses a significant threat to our members' retirement security. [...] Similarly, Bill 45 [the Public Sector Services Continuation Act] remains in place, undermining members' basic rights to freedom of expression and association," Smith said.

"We are prepared to rebuild the relationship with the government that's needed to ensure Albertans get the quality services they deserve. Our members will be judging the government on their actions, not their words," Smith emphasized.

Congratulations to AUPE for defending the rights of workers to decide, and refusing to accept the use of force and violence by the state! Congratulations to all the workers and their allies who have participated in this fight and who continue to demand that Bills 45, 9 and 10 be withdrawn.

Workers and their allies have shown very clearly that they are not going to stand for the use of force and violence in place of good-faith negotiations. They have forced the government to back down from its arrogant stand that it can abuse its power whenever it pleases and no one can hold it to account.

Terms of Tentative Agreement

Under the terms of Bill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act (PSSRA) the option of compulsory arbitration was removed and the government decreed that the 2011 agreement would remain in place until 2017 with no increases for wages and benefits in the first two years and a 1 per cent increase in each of the last two years, plus a lump sum payment of $875.00 for eligible employees prorated for part-time workers.

The union challenged the legislation and won an injunction. Justice Thomas gave a scathing indictment of the legislation, concluding that "Alberta" did not meet its obligation to bargain in good faith. The PSSRA, he writes, creates a monologue where salaries are set without negotiations and government unilaterally dictates the employment terms of its members. Changes to the 2011 agreement, which were agreed upon during negotiations for a new collective agreement, are erased by imposing the 2011 collective agreement.

Justice Thomas writes, "What is particularly concerning is the uncontested fact that Alberta and AUPE had come to meaningful agreements on certain issues during collective bargaining, but rather than respecting those points of common ground, Alberta has by legislation 'wiped the slate clean' when it unilaterally imposed all terms from the 2011 Collective Agreement. This raises the question of whether those negotiations were ever conducted in good faith, or were merely camouflage for a different agenda."

The injunction meant that AUPE could proceed to arbitration but the resulting settlement would not be enforced until after all legal proceedings were concluded. The Alberta Court of Appeals was set to hear arguments from the government and the union when the government gave notice that it would adjourn its appeal.

The tentative agreement provides a lump sum payment of $1,850 to eligible employees as of ratification (pro-rated for part-time) covering April 1, 2013 to April 1, 2014 and on-the-grid salary increases of 6.75% over the next three years as follows:

April 1 2014 = 2% to wage grids
April 1 2015 = 2.25% to wage grids
April 1 2016 = 2.5% to wage grids

Employees on leave are not eligible for the lump sum payment.

AUPE informs, "Other key changes improve shift and weekend differentials, weekend premium and overtime for Subsidiary Agreements #2, #3, and #6 to match provisions in the other Subsidiary Agreements."

These include:

Article 18, Shift Differential
- Upon ratification:
3:00 pm to 11:00 pm = $2.75
11:00 pm to 7:00 am = $5.00

Article 18A, Weekend Premiums
- Upon ratification the weekend will start Friday at 3:00 pm and end Monday at 7:00 am; the rate will be increased to $3.25.

Article 29, Grievance Procedure
- Members will now be able to pursue harassment and discrimination issues to level 3.

Article 36A, Christmas Closure
- additional days off due to closure of government offices and non-essential operations when Christmas falls on:
Sunday or Monday -- 2 days
Tuesday to Saturday -- 3 days

Article 37, Annual Vacation Leave
- Improvements to the accrual rates for annual vacation as follows.
     - All newly hired employees receive 5 days vacation on hire;
     - After 5 years of service get 20 days;
     - After 13 years of service get 25 days;
     - After 21 years of service get 30 days;
     - After 30 years of service get 35 days.
- Vacation entitlement is now earned monthly and can be utilized as earned.

Another notable change involves improvements to protective clothing and high rigging allowances.

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Big Gains for Energy Monopolies, More Austerity Demanded of Workers

Defeat the Anti-Social Agenda!

The Alberta provincial government keeps claiming a need for "austerity" due to the "struggles" of the energy monopolies to make profits. It uses this disinformation as an excuse to underfund health care, education and other social programs and to put pressure on workers to agree to concessions on their wages, benefits, and pensions.

In the 2013 provincial budget, the amount of revenue the government claimed from the energy sector generally, and on the specific monopolies allowed to operate in Alberta, was reduced by about $4 billion or more than 35 per cent compared to the previous year.

Cries of austerity in the economy and the struggles of monopolies for profit were excuses to lower government claims on what it calls "non-renewable resource revenue." The amount the government claimed in budget 2014 on non-renewable resource revenue was increased but is still almost 20 per cent below the 2012 amount.

Facts found in the business pages expose the self-serving lies that the energy monopolies are struggling. A blatant example is the continually improving profitability of the oil sands' monopoly, Suncor. Suncor has just reported a first quarter 2014 financial result (January-March), which is its best on record. Revenue jumped 5 per cent compared to the same period in 2013 and 3 per cent compared to the previous quarter (October-December 2013). Cash flow from Suncor operations, a broad measure of an energy company's financial and operating performance, shot up 26 per cent compared to last year and 23 per cent compared to the previous quarter.

Suncor was left with a declared equity profit of $1.5 billion or $1.01 per common share, an increase of 36 percent year over year, and a massive 250 per cent increase quarter over quarter. These results were achieved despite daily overall crude production falling by 8.5 per cent for the first quarter 2014 when compared to the first quarter 2013 and by 2.3 per cent compared to the previous quarter. Even though its oil sands production declined, profits increased. This indicates how the fortunes of energy monopolies are closely tied to the realized prices of their commodities and how much individual Canadians and businesses eventually have to pay. It shows also the necessity for conscious intervention and control of a public authority on the setting of prices and selling of energy resources domestically and abroad. Public control over the wholesale distribution of natural resources and their prices of production is necessary and in the public interest. This would stabilize the resource extraction economy and open some space in the fight to humanize it. Public control over the wholesale market would also put an end to such excuses for austerity such as the government's cries of a "bitumen bubble" for which Albertans are supposed to suffer.

Suncor also reported specific improved earnings from its oil sands and refining business sectors for the quarter. It set a daily production record for synthetic crude of 312,200 barrels. On the open market at this time, synthetic crude has a lower price differential to West Texas Intermediate than heavy crude and bitumen, making its production an important source of revenue for the company.

Finally, Suncor increased its return on capital employed (ROCE) for the fifth successive quarter to 12.6 per cent, a 5.5 per cent increase over the same period in 2013 and a 1.1 per cent increase compared to the previous quarter. ROCE indicates the performance of a company's capital investments in production, which declines over time as productivity innovations become widespread in a sector amongst all competitors. Higher realized prices, for whatever reason, play a leading role in countering the tendency of the rate of return on capital employed to fall.

Suncor is in no way unique in reporting such lucrative first quarter 2014 results. Other Alberta energy monopolies including Imperial Oil, Cenovus, Nexen, and so on are also showing gains in profit, according to their own just-released reports.

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Harper Henchman Vies for Leadership of Alberta PCs

Harper's New Fifth Column Strategy in Alberta?

Jim Prentice, member of the ruling elite and a former Harper government Cabinet Minister, announced on April 28 that he would run for leadership of the ruling Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. The PCs will choose their new leader in September. A long-time Harperite, Prentice supported the Harper-led Reform/Canadian Alliance takeover of the old Conservative Party in 2003.

Prentice was elected in the Calgary Centre-North riding in the federal election of 2004. He has been, in succession, Harper's Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Minister of Industry, and Minister of the Environment. He is also Chair of Harper's Advisory Committee on the Public Service, which has as its main aims to reduce funding, cut services, downsize the work force, and privatize and sell off public assets. As Minister of Industry, he stonewalled anyone who questioned his position on digital rights management, which was widely described as a blatant sellout to U.S. interests.

Prentice is a key member of the ruling corporate elite. He resigned his post as Harper's Minister of Environment in January 2011 to become vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). CIBC financed Alberta oil sands giant Husky Oil. At one time, Husky's owner, Li Ka Shing, was CIBC's biggest shareholder. John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, is a board member of CIBC.

While currently being promoted as a "friend" of the Aboriginal peoples, Prentice, as Minister of Indian Affairs, opposed the Tlicho land agreement in the Northwest Territories. In March 2014, energy monopoly Enbridge hired Prentice with the mission to try to gain Aboriginal support for the stalled Northern Gateway Pipeline. Harper's National Energy Board agreed to the $6.5-billion pipeline plan last year and the Prime Minister, who has the final say, is slated to make a yes-or-no decision in June.

Prentice is also a director of the monopolies Canadian Pacific, Bell Canada, and the Calgary-based billionaire Mannix family's Coril Holdings, which operates in railroads, oil and gas services and other industries. Prentice is a member of the influential U.S.-based Trilateral Commission, founded by oil and banking oligarch David Rockefeller in 1973, which regularly brings together leading capitalists from North America, Western Europe and Japan.

In the previous Alberta election, Prime Minister Harper appeared to ally himself with the opposition Wildrose Party. Many politicians moved back and forth between the two political parties. The Wildrose's campaign chairman was U.S.-born Tom Flanagan, Harper's former number one political advisor, who has now fallen into disrepute. Vitor Marciano, a Wildrose candidate in Alberta's so-called Senate election, was Chair of the National Conservative Policy Committee from 2006-08, as well as campaign manager for two of Harper's federal candidates, and a volunteer for the 2004 Harper leadership campaign. Two former members of federal Conservative MP Rob Anders' advisory group, Andrew Constantinidis and Tim Dyck were Wildrose election candidates. Anders supported Harper's 2002 bid for leadership of the Canadian Alliance Party. James Johnson, the former Alberta regional organizer for the Harper Conservatives became chief researcher for the Wildrose Legislative caucus, while Candice Malcolm, once Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's communications aide, tweeted for Wildrose.

With the sudden resignation of Alberta PC Premier Alison Redford, Harper seems to have changed his strategy. Instead of linking up with Wildrose, he is now trying to put his own man, Jim Prentice, directly at the head of the Alberta PCs. His aim is still the same, to have a party in power in Alberta closely allied to him to consolidate his dictatorship. This would be very advantageous for Harper. Under Canada's Constitution, the federal and provincial governments have exclusive jurisdiction over certain areas. This division of powers can block the federal government from carrying out certain policies because such actions would violate the Constitution.

The provincial governments exercise control over the key area of social programs, e.g., health care, education and social welfare. Should the Harper dictatorship wish to privatize health care systems across the country, an allied Alberta government could help in leading the way by enacting necessary provincial legislation. Another key area of provincial jurisdiction is Crown lands and natural resources while the federal government holds jurisdiction over interprovincial trade and transportation. This has a number of important ramifications. One example relates to Alberta's abundant water. Should the Harper dictatorship wish to open the door to the inclusion of water in the NAFTA Agreement, an allied Alberta government could establish that precedent by authorizing Canada's first shipment of bulk water to the U.S. Besides fresh water, the Alberta provincial government has jurisdiction over a great deal of Canada's petroleum resources, including the oil sands. Behind all the politicians vying for power and influence in Alberta, the energy monopolies pull key strings.

Overall, the Harper dictatorship is more and more bringing Canada under U.S. control. Although claiming that tough economic times mean restricting government spending on the services Canadians require, Harper is handing over tens of billions of dollars to monopolies involved in war of which energy production is closely related. Many federal projects are aimed at establishing an integrated military system under the command of U.S. imperialism. Oil is the world's most strategic military resource and the U.S. is manoeuvring for a secure oil supply during periods not only of small predatory wars but in preparation for a major conflict with a big power. Canada is a primary option for a secure source of oil.

The Alberta PCs are already known for their willingness to sell-out the province to foreign and private interests, especially in the U.S. However, it seems the Harper dictatorship would like a provincial government more closely allied with it and the private interests it represents to help streamline the process of guaranteeing oil to U.S. imperialism, and in particular, to the U.S. military to fuel their aggressive wars. With so much at stake, it should surprise no one that the Harper dictatorship is desperately trying to establish a fifth column that it can more directly control in Alberta by any means necessary.

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Albertans Pay Their Respects on April 28

Step Up Organizing to Enforce
the Right to Safe and Healthy Working Conditions!

Alberta along with the rest of Canada paid its respects on April 28, to workers killed and injured on the job. Local labour councils organized ceremonies to mourn the dead and defend the living in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Hinton and Lethbridge.

Monument to Injured Workers,
Grant Notley Park, Edmonton.

April 28 is also an occasion to renew the commitment of workers' collectives to organize all workers in the fight to enforce the right to safe and healthy workplaces. Within this fight to defend the rights of workers, the Workers' Opposition vows to hold governments to account to take up their social responsibility to end employer impunity with regard to working conditions that endanger workers' lives and well-being.

During the past year, the Alberta government reports that 188 workers died from workplace accidents or occupational disease. As of April 28, 2014 not one charge has been laid against employers for these deaths. In the last year, 99 workers died from occupational disease, 52 from workplace incidents and 37 deaths from motor vehicle collisions. The figure of 188 deaths does not include deaths of farm workers since the government has irresponsibly stopped counting these deaths.

As workers in Fort McMurray held ceremonies to commemorate the Day of Mourning, the death of a second Suncor employee this year brought renewed urgency to the call to make workplaces safe. Forty-year-old Jerry Cooper, a tailings operator at Suncor was found dead and submerged in a pool of sand and water after he had gone to investigate a pipeline leak this past January. Electrician Shane Daye, 27-years-old, was killed April 20 in an area that contained electrical panels.

A focus of the Day of Mourning was the complete lack of protection for Alberta farm workers. Then Premier Alison Redford promised to include farm workers in Occupational Health and Safety standards in 2011. Instead, in 2012 the Alberta government simply stopped reporting farm worker deaths, implying agricultural death, injury and illness is acceptable, necessary and outside the purview of any public authority. In this vein, where an entire sector of the working class is condemned to civil death, the PC government refuses to take up its social responsibility to guarantee the right of Alberta's approximately 12,000 farm workers to safe and healthy working conditions. The Workers' Opposition refuses to accept this retrogression and is determined to change the situation.

Farm workers are denied even the most minimum protections of a public authority. Alberta is the only province that excludes industrial feedlots, grain operations, and other farm workplaces from occupational health and safety laws, including the right to refuse unsafe work. Alberta farm workers are also excluded from mandatory Workers' Compensation Board coverage. They are also excluded from employment standards regarding child labour, hours of work, overtime, statutory holidays, and vacation pay. Within this unjust situation, farm workers are denied the right to organize themselves, such as in a union, to defend life and limb, wages, benefits and general working conditions. These medieval exclusions from civil society extend to migrant farm workers who are amongst the most vulnerable. Federal government figures show that in 2013 more than 3,000 temporary foreign workers worked on the province's farms.

The ceremony organized by the Edmonton and District Labour Council (EDLC) highlighted the plight of farm workers. In 2006, farm worker Kevan Chandler was killed near High River, Alberta. He was cleaning out a grain silo when the grain collapsed and smothered him. His widow Lorna read a touching letter to Kevan speaking of the family's life and loss after his death.

Kevan Chandler's death led to a Public Fatality Inquiry conducted by Justice Peter Barley in 2008 but farm workers are still denied their basic rights. Devin Yeager, a national representative for United Food and Commercial Workers Union spoke of Chandler's death and how the Alberta government has permitted the agricultural monopolies to block any action to provide protection for farm workers and prevent further deaths. Yeager's remarks are posted below.

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Tell the Alberta Government That Farm Workers Count

In 2006 I was working at Alberta Distillers in Calgary and one of my primary duties was working inside grain silos. I also went to school in High River, so I remember hearing about Kevan Chandler's death. We had a lot of discussion at work about the different rules around going into grain silos. In the non-agricultural sector we had a long list of rules under Occupational Health and Safety [OH&S] that we had to follow. We had to have a lifeline, we had to have a spotter, we had to have oxygen testers, and we had to have someone watching us the entire time. We had to have a rope attached to us the entire time, and someone was on the other end of that rope, so if anything happened he had to pull us out. There was a long training we had to go through over a number of days about confined space entry, and these are the things we had to go through to go into a grain silo that if you worked on a farm you would never have to do because those laws don't apply.

Following the Fatality Inquiry for Kevan Chandler, Justice Barley made two recommendations. First, that the Alberta government should include farm workers under the Occupational Health and Safety legislation and second, that a farm safety committee should be established to look at how to make Alberta farms safe.

I was lucky enough to be the token labour representative on that committee [the Farm Safety Advisory Council] and I voiced my concerns and labour's concerns on this important issue. Unfortunately, the heads of large farming corporations like Agrium and others were not very much interested in the rights of farm workers. I was able to convince a number of people on the committee that the legislation should be changed, and we had a lot of support on the committee. Unfortunately, the way the Alberta government had to set it up, it had to be unanimous.

So the recommendations which went to the Alberta government were about voluntary programs, education. They sound great and they are -- educating people about how to make farms safer is a great thing. Unfortunately, there are people out there who willfully disregard this and continue to do so. I have dealt with a number of those situations through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program down in southern Alberta. There are a lot of small towns with a lot of migrant workers that do not have any rights at all, are foreign to Canada and are only here for a limited amount of time. I went down to investigate a complaint that workers working in the fields were eating lunch in the field and the farmer drove by in the pesticide truck and sprayed the workers along with the crops. When we called the Alberta government to complain, we were told that, "I'm sorry, no law has been broken because there is no law."

So how do we continue to run a program of education about what is right and wrong when someone would willfully know that that is wrong and they continue to do it. This is a problem of the system that without some sort of stick, without some sort of enforcement program, the best education program in the world does not mean anything.

Just because the Alberta government stopped counting [deaths, injuries and illnesses of farm workers], does not mean that these workers do not count. These workers absolutely count and we must tell the Alberta government that they absolutely must continue to count. Alberta is the only province in Canada where farm workers are excluded from four pieces of legislation -- the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OH&S), the Workers' Compensation Act, aspects of the Employment Standards Act and the right to join unions. It is disgusting, and I would like to call on the Alberta government to change these laws -- make sure OH&S is extended to include farm workers because this should no longer happen. We are here to talk about the 188 workers that died, but the government is no longer counting deaths of farm workers.

We must make sure all workers count. An injury to one is an injury to all! Just because farm workers work in the fields does not mean they are dirt!

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Federation of Labour Calls for Action on Worker Safety

Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) President Gil McGowan took part in the Edmonton District Labour Council's Day of Mourning ceremony on April 28. During the proceedings, McGowan urged the government to use the current Employment Standards Review process to make the province's workplaces safer.

"Alberta is the only place in Canada where we find so many exemptions and lack of safety inspections, enforcement, or prosecutions. There is more impunity in this province than anywhere else in Canada. It is the best place in Canada for employers to get away with unsafe work, and remains one of the most dangerous places in Canada to be a worker," McGowan said.

The AFL has a ten-point plan for worker safety, which includes more resources for prosecutions, administrative fines with teeth, posting safety records online, joint worker-employer health and safety committees, eliminating child labour in mainstream workplaces, covering farm workers under occupational health and safety standards, an inquiry into workplace carcinogens and occupational disease, more resources for targeted inspections and enforcement in dangerous industries, ending bonuses to WCB workers for denying claims, and increasing WCB premiums in dangerous industries.

The AFL pointed out that Alberta is the only province where children from 12 - 14 can work in restaurant and retail jobs, where industrial feedlots, grain operations, and other farm workplaces are excluded from Occupational Health and Safety Standards, and without mandatory joint worker-employer health and safety committees.

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