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KNOXVILLE — A team of researchers from the University of Tennessee recently conducted a survey of wage levels in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.

The three-member team from UT’s Construction Industry Research and Policy Center spent two weeks canvassing employers on the island, under a contract with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Team leader Tom Cressler said the local minimum-wage structure is unusual.

“There are 18 different minimum wages in American Samoa, based on industry classification,” Cressler said. “Federal law says that a conference should be held every other year to adjust the minimum wage levels for each industry sector, so we are working on the survey to present the results to the conference next year, probably in June.”

The American Samoa Industry Committee will use the report to help it determine minimum wages throughout the territory.

Industry committees were used on the U.S. mainland after enactment of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act to phase low-wage industries into the minimum statutory wage.

After World War II, only Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa continued to use the committee system to set separate industry minimum wages. Today, the system of wage-setting is restricted to American Samoa.

The fish canning and processing industry was the largest employer in the 2002 survey, with local and territorial government in second place, and retailing, wholesaling and warehousing in third place.

Minimum hourly wages in 2002 ranged from $2.57 in the category of miscellaneous activities to $4.09 in shipping and transportation.

The 2004 report should be finished by March 2005 and sent to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The UT team already had experience in the Samoan employment market, Cressler said.

“We were asked to analyze the results of the last two surveys, which were conducted by U.S. federal wage and hour investigators, but this time the federal government asked us to actually conduct the survey as well,” he said. “It was a lot of work but we were happy to do it.”

Cressler was joined by colleagues Terry Higgins and Richard Hartrey in collecting wage data from a sample of the nearly 1,400 local businesses in American Samoa, located roughly halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.

“We worked six days a week, because we thought that since we’d come all the way there, we should get as much done as we could,” Cressler said. “We also wanted to do a good job for them because it reflects positively on the University of Tennessee.”