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ST. LOUIS (AP) - Federal watchdogs say they're launching an effort to bolster labor-law compliance involving hand-harvested crops in Illinois and Missouri.
The U.S. Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division announced the initiative Tuesday. The intent is to safeguard agricultural workers against violations of fair labor, visa, migrant and seasonal agriculture worker, and sanitation laws.
The government says the effort focusing on growers, farm labor contractors, agricultural brokers and processors comes after earlier initiatives uncovered numerous compliance issues.
Ninety-eight investigations between the 2010 and 2012 fiscal years by the division's St. Louis district resulted in more than $100,000 in back wages for 228 employees. It also resulted in more than $80,000 in assessed civil penalties.
One proposal considered by a Missouri Senate committee Tuesday would eliminate the "prevailing wage" altogether.
Missouri calculates the prevailing wage for various construction trades in each county based on surveys of wages already paid on jobs.
The measure's sponsor, Sen. Dan Brown, of Rolla, told the panel the current wage calculation does not adequately reflect construction wage rates in rural Missouri, thus driving up a project's cost.
Another bill would keep the prevailing wage intact, but would use a federal database to set the guidelines for projects in rural counties.