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CLEVELAND — Ohio’s attorney general, a Democrat elected with strong union backing, announced an enforcement program Monday to target contractors who don’t pay union-scale prevailing wages required at many publicly financed construction projects.

Union leaders were on hand for the announcement by Attorney General Marc Dann, hailed by a political ally during a question-and-answer session as ‘‘a new sheriff in town’’ who would look favorably on issues important to organized labor.

‘‘We’re going to aggressively pursue this strategy in the future,’’ Dann said in announcing $452,855 in wages owed to employees of 19 subcontractors and $113,755 in penalties.

The settlement would resolve a state investigation of the $7 million state share of a $50 million project to remove industrial sediment from the Ashtabula River in far northeast Ohio.

The employee payments will be the responsibility of the parties to the settlement — the port agency and general contractors that subcontracted the work, according to Dennis Ginty with the Ohio Department of Commerce, which oversees the prevailing wage program.

No individual payment breakdown was provided, but 117 employees are due money. Dann’s staff estimated that workers who should have been paid about $28 hourly in prevailing wages — matching union contracts in the region — instead got $15 hourly to $18 hourly.

If the 117 each got an equal share, the payments would be more than $3,870 apiece.

Dann said pursuing penalties could help deter violations.

Associated General Contractors of Ohio, a trade group that lobbies on construction issues, said it welcomed enforcement of the prevailing wage law to create an even competitive field.

‘‘It keeps your low-rate, less of a quality firm from coming in and underbidding,’’ said Richard J. Hobbs, executive vice president of the organization, which represents unionized and nonunionized companies.

State Sen. Larry Mumper, a Marion Republican who has proposed exempting state universities from the prevailing wage law, questioned why contractors would be targeted if work was done properly at less cost.

‘‘If we do it without prevailing wage cheaper, we probably ought to get out of it,’’ he said. ‘‘If it were up to me, I’d get rid of prevailing wage.’’

Ernie Vallorz, chief financial officer of American Environmental of Richfield, whose employees are owed $177,677, said it had been told the project wasn’t covered by the prevailing wage law. The company routinely pays union-scale wages when required, Vallorz said.

John G. Golish, a business representative for Teamsters Local 436 in nearby Valley View, thanked Dann at the news conference for his work on the issue and said the initiative showed ‘‘there is a new sheriff in town’’ on labor issues.

Golish, who said both he and his union had supported Dann’s election last fall, agreed with Dann’s assessment that penalties could help deter violations. ‘‘Once it (imposing penalties) is done once or twice, he probably won’t have to do it any more,’’ Golish predicted.

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On the Net: http://www.ag.state.oh.us