On Thursday, March 24, Dominican University community members and dining service staff delivered a signed petition and letter supporting dining staff from students to the college president’s office. Glena Temple, Dominican’s president, was not in at the time, but a response has been requested by those coordinating the petition.
The effort to support dining service workers and their request for affordable healthcare and better wages has sparked a movement in the Dominican University community.
Since 2015, Dominican has contracted with Quest Food Management Service to provide meals to the college community and jobs to dining and Cyber Café staff.
Over the course of the last few months, food service staff working for Quest at Dominican have expressed their need for “affordable healthcare.” That effort has the support of their local union UNITE HERE Local 1, which created the petition.
A public forum was held March 17 with about 30 students, faculty, staff, and union representatives who joined via Zoom.
Ulises Flores, a junior and president of the Undocumented Immigrant and Allyance club, said, “as the people we are, we come from working class families. This is very personal to me, and I know it’s personal to a lot of students.”
During the forum, Dan Abraham, an organizing director with UNITE HERE Local 1, reviewed a recent report called “Quest Negotiation,” and a petition with over 275 signatures to support food service staff on campus.
The petition reads: “As members of the Dominican University community, we affirm the dignity of the human person and express our concern for the common good. The food workers employed by Quest are also members of our community. Food workers should be able to afford to comfortably support their families — to buy healthy food, to pay their bills, and go to the doctor whenever they need to. We call on members of our community to strongly encourage a solution which is just and humane for these workers.”
The Quest Negotiation reports that according to 18 food service staff who were surveyed at Dominican, “50% of respondents, or a member of their household, could not afford to go to the doctor. 56% of respondents, or a member of their household, could not afford their medications. 61% of respondents, or a member of their household, skipped some kind of medical service.”
Food service workers were able to speak about their experiences with Quest during the forum. Through teary eyes, they echoed the love they have for the students and the faculty on campus.
“It’s a blessing to know that there’s people here that care. From the bottom of my heart, I cherish every individual child in this school like they were my own. It’s a struggle, but you gotta put your game face on and keep doing it,” said Toni Jones, a cook who has been at Dominican for more than 20 years.
Workers also echoed the need for affordable healthcare and their experiences with doctors’ visits and care they cannot afford.
Nick Saccaro, president of Quest Food Management Services and leader in Quest’s daily operations, said in a statement to the Dominican Star: “Quest has offered Local 1 two insurance plans for our employees at DU, both are through Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Quest has offered to pay 85% of the health insurance premiums (and 85% of the dental and vision insurance premiums), up from our current 80% contribution. Our proposed monthly premium is slightly less than the same Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan that Dominican offers to employees – it is less than $100/month – and this is a 20%+ savings from the current premium. From day 1 of our negotiations, which started in June of 2021, we have tried to present insurance options that are aligned with the community standards and practices at Dominican, which contributes 20% towards employee premiums. As of March of 2021, the average employer paid 77% of the health insurance premium for employees according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Again, we are offering to pay 85%, and Dominican pays 80% of the health insurance premiums.”
Kenya Alexander, a pregnant food service worker, says, “When I have my baby, I won’t even get paid maternity leave.”
Students at the forum were concerned and wanted the university to get involved.
Freshman undocumented student Jashui Zarate Torres says, “I don’t want this problem to be unsolved and still have Dominican hold itself to ‘number one school in social justice in the Midwest.’ It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Mark Titzer, Dominican’s vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, says, “Quest pays Dominican staff and Dominican reimburses Quest. My understanding is what Quest is offering in the proposal are wage rates that are comparable with many of Dominican’s other direct hourly workers.”
President Temple submitted a statement to the Star: “Dominican University affirms the dignity of the human person and promotes the common good. Quest Food Management Services and UNITE HERE Local 1 have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement for Quest’s employees providing food service at Dominican University. The process is ongoing, and our expectation is that both parties are and will continue bargaining in good faith to reach a fair and sustainable contract for all that meets our community standards.”
This story first appeared in the Dominican Star newspaper and is reprinted with permission. Azhley Rodriguez is a junior at Dominican and works for the Star.