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SouthCoast folks celebrated Gov. Charlie Baker's signing of a landmark equal pay bill at the State House on Monday afternoon.

Why is equal pay good for employers?

Data shows that women in Massachusetts earn just 82 cents on the dollar. This ratio is even worse for African American women who earn 61 cents, and Latina women who earn 50 cents.

By Auditi Guha | Posted Aug. 1, 2016 at 9:32 PM – Updated Aug 2, 2016 at 8:41 AM

History has been made again in the state that led gay marriage and LGBTQ rights as Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill into law Monday ensuring men and women get equal pay, effective July 2018.“For the women and families of our state, this new law will support truly comparable pay for comparable work, thereby serving to eventually close the gap which exists across demographic lines, but is more acute for women of color and Latinas,” said Jean Fox, a member of the Bristol County Commission on the Status of Women and a participating member of the Equal Pay Coalition that led advocacy for the bill, in an email.Women are currently paid about 82 percent on average of what their male counterparts make in Massachusetts, according to an Associated Press article.

“We are in an economically depressed region where people still go to work in Boston for higher pay. Our pay rates should be comparable,” said Pamela McLeod-Lima, executive director at the Women’s Center in New Bedford. “A gain of 25 cents in 35 years is not exactly huge and we don’t even have an equal rights amendment yet. But, in baby steps, it’s a step forward.”

“One day they will appreciate how important this day is and get involved themselves. I want them to learn that their voices matter,” she said in a news release.Helena da Silva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center in New Bedford, said she meets too many women who earn minimum wage ($10 in Massachusetts since January) and are the sole working members or heads of their household. Many of them work more than one job and have latchkey kids who do not get the attention they deserve.Valerie Bassett, executive director of the Women’s Fund of Southeastern Massachusetts that aims to increase the percentage of women in the region who earn a living wage, attended the event and congratulated lawmakers for helping to end the gender wage gap in the Commonwealth.Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, said he is proud of the bill being signed into law “as an advocate of women’s rights.”

“This milestone legislation allows Massachusetts to, once again, lead the nation,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Patricia A. Haddad of Somerset in a statement. “None of this would have taken place had not legislators on both sides of the aisle, the business community, the Attorney General’s office and ordinary, everyday working citizens of the Commonwealth worked together to achieve this goal: equal pay for equal work.”

“This new law is an important step toward ensuring economic security for Massachusetts women and families,” said Attorney General Maura Healey in a news release. “It makes vital updates that reflect our modern economy and balance the needs of workers and the business community.”

“It paves the way for women to earn just as much as their male counterparts for comparable work by acknowledging the blatant disparities and addressing them head on,” he said in a statement.

“This is an historic day at an historic time for women and for Massachusetts leading the nation with the most comprehensive equal pay bill in the country. While we celebrate, there is a lot more work to do — to implement and educate people about this bill, and to make sure it benefits women of color, who face the biggest wage gap,” she said in an email.

“This is definitely a step forward if we are to break the cycle of poverty,” she said. “Women should earn the same amount of money as men, especially if we are working equally hard.”

Massachusetts led the country with its equal pay bill passed in 1945. Kennedy enacted the first federal legislation in the 1960s but the gap remains, said Fox who attended the ceremony and is also the SouthCoast Rail project manager.

Millie Sanchez, Women’s Fund policy advocacy representative and a recent Bristol Community College graduate, brought her two 9-year-old daughters to the event.

Proponents of the equal pay movement championed the new law but said it is a small step forward in a region that has long been economically challenged.

The law also prohibits employers from asking prospective hires about their salaries until after making a job offer. Prospective employees could voluntarily offer the information, however, and employees could discuss their salaries with other workers without facing retribution from their employer, the law further states.

“This is a very significant step forward,” Baker said during a packed ceremony in the State House attended by several SouthCoast representatives.

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