Ray Duckler: Taking a bite out of wage disparity on Equal Pay Day 

  • Zephyra Lehrhaupt, 5, shows off her paper umbrella as her mother, Dylan, looks on at The Works Bakery Cafe in Concord on Tuesday. The cafe gave women a 21 percent discount on Equal Pay Day, which drew attention to the wage gap between men and women. Photos by GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • State Representative Sharon Nordgren of Hanover came to the Equal Pay event at The Works in Concord on Tuesday. (GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sally Freeman at The Works for the Equal Pay day Tuesday in Concord. (GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rylee Orlosk, 17, a senior at Concord High School plans to take some off before going off to college. (GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff) GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Published: 4/13/2016 2:00:08 AM

Rachel Tennison, a sales manager in Nashua, is looking for a new job.
On Tuesday, with her leftover half sandwich neatly wrapped on a table at The Works Bakery Cafe, Tennison told me she’s a hard worker, and I believed her. She seemed bright and articulate and confident.

So why, Tennison wondered, is she earning less money than a man who’s below her in her company’s corporate pecking order?

“I do substantially more work than he does,” said Tennison, who lives in Concord. “When you work for a company that doesn’t appear to value you, it makes you feel like you’re not appreciated.”

That’s what Tuesday was about. Called Equal Pay Day, it drew attention to a hard fact that boggles the mind in the 21st century: On average, women earn 79 cents to every dollar a man makes, based on full-time wages.

That’s why Tennison told her boss to post her job if he couldn’t increase her pay by $1.50 an hour (he couldn’t). That’s why The Works Bakery Cafe and other businesses in the state agreed to give women a 21 percent discount, still hoping to attract big lunchtime crowds (they did).

And that’s why people like Tennison told me to pull up a chair and join them for lunch. The Works Bakery Cafe was buzzing. A little later in the day and it could have been called girls’ night out. Men there were scarce.

“My boss asked his boss if another position was available for me,” Tennison said. “There wasn’t, and I understood, but. . . ”

Her voice trailed off, but her determination will march on until she finds another job. Meanwhile, she’ll train the person who replaces her.

Tennison, 23, sat with Concord High School seniors Rylee Orlosk, 17, and Sally Freeman, 18. Tennison dates Freeman’s brother.

The two students work 20 hours a week – Orlosk at Cassetta Critter Care in Chichester and the Centennial hotel, Freeman at Dos Amigos Burritos. Both want to study psychology, help people, make a difference. And one day, both want to be treated fairly in the workplace, and that includes equal salary.

“I’ll deserve to be paid fully what a man makes,” said Orlosk, looking toward the future. “Our ability to do things doesn’t depend on whether you’re a man or a woman.”

Facebook told Freeman that Tuesday was significant for women. It’s the day that symbolizes how long into the new year a woman has to work to earn what a man earned the previous year. It told her the numbers. Her response to the gap in pay?

“Is this real? I can’t imagine,” Freeman said she thought.

She’s on equal footing with men at Dos Amigos. She’s not sure what will happen later, though, and she was skeptical about the future.

“I work really hard, and personally I work as hard or harder than some of the men,” Freeman said. “I don’t see a wage difference at this point, but I think I will eventually.”

Maybe, maybe not. And what about 5-year-old Zephyra Lehrhaupt of Epsom? Will the workforce be fair by the time she enters it?

“The more we talk about it, the more it becomes something everyone knows about,” said Zephyra’s mother, Dylan Lehrhaupt. “Maybe then my kids won’t be paid less than their male counterparts.”

Dylan, who taught kindergarten, is now a stay-at-home mom. Beyond its inherent importance, she’s proud to do it because it was her decision.

“I had other options I could have done, other things,” Lehrhaupt said. “My grandmother had no options.”

On the other side of The Works Bakery Cafe sat a pair of veteran legislators, Reps. Sharon Nordgren of Hanover and Mary Jane Wallner of Concord. Their eras included the Leave-It-to-Beaver mentality, the one that portrayed women as Susie Homemakers.

“Sometimes it’s a political issue,” Nordgren said. “Sometimes it’s not having the proper respect for women.”

Wallner chose to break the issue down to dollars and cents. “If it’s 79 cents on the dollar, what would that mean in a lifetime?” she said. “Research shows it could be $400,000 to $500,000. What does that mean for a family?”

What, indeed.

Tennison, the job hunter we met at the start of this column, knows what’s at stake here. She almost cried when an employee from another district told her what a male employee below her in status was making.

So she’s not worried that her boss will see her comments here. He already knows her plans. He already knows how she feels.

“It’s an hour to commute to Nashua for work,” Tennison said. “I need $1.50 an hour more or I have to find a job a closer to home.”

She relayed her thoughts to her boss last Thursday, saying he should post her job in 72 hours if he couldn’t comply.

The clock ran out on Tuesday, Equal Pay Day.

Time to move on.

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