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Chicago employees were required to report their vaccination status by Friday or risk losing pay. The local FOP is encouraging officers not to do so.
Tensions over city government vaccine mandates boiled over this week as Chicago’s mayor and the city’s police union filed dueling lawsuits against one another in the final hours before all city employees were required to disclose their vaccination status or risk losing pay.
States and cities are increasingly requiring public sector employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or to submit to testing requirements. But enforcement within law enforcement agencies is proving particularly problematic.
In Chicago, city employees were required to disclose their vaccine status by Friday so the city could begin testing requirements for unvaccinated workers on Monday. But local Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara has encouraged officers not to do so, saying the city should have been required to negotiate with the union.
On Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the city had filed a lawsuit against the FOP and Catanzara, alleging that he sought “to induce an insurrection” by encouraging officers not to disclose their vaccination status. Employees who fail to report their vaccination status by the deadline will be put on no pay status.
Catanzara has suggested that if the city enforces the mandate, police staffing could be reduced by half over the weekend.
In a complaint for injunctive relief that was filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the city said the FOP’s directive “a clear instruction and command to engage in an unlawful strike.” The police union is barred from striking under both its collective bargaining agreement and the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.
Hours after Lightfoot’s announcement, the FOP countersued, alleging that the city did not properly negotiate with the union over the vaccine mandate.
Under the city’s mandate, all workers must be vaccinated by Oct. 15 or they will be subject to twice weekly testing requirements.
Police officers who decline to be vaccinated will undermine the public’s trust in the ability of the department to keep residents safe, Lightfoot said during a Friday press conference.
“First responders, police, fire, EMTS are literally in physical contact with residents every single day,” Lightfoot said. “Those residents have a right to expect that those officers are not going to get them sick. Those firefighters or paramedics are not going to get them sick.”
Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police has resisted the vaccine mandate from the start, and Catanzara issued his latest statement Friday telling members they are under no obligation to disclose their vaccination status.
The city’s complaint against the FOP asks the court to enjoin the union from engaging in any concerted effort to refuse to submit vaccination status and to block Catanzara from encouraging members to refuse to comply with the city’s vaccination status.
Other State and Local Mandate Clashes
While Lightfoot’s battle with the local FOP has been particularly heated, other state and local governments with vaccine mandates have also clashed with unions over the issue.
Officials in Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon exempted law enforcement agencies from vaccine mandates after unions raised questions about legality. Under Oregon law, local municipalities can issue vaccine mandates for law enforcement only if a federal or state rule requires it, but the state’s mandate covers school staff, health care workers and state employees.
While New York City has gone to court to defend its requirement that teachers be vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio has not issued a vaccine mandate for the nation’s largest police department. New York’s Police Benevolent Association has vowed to sue if officers are required to be vaccinated.
Denver required city employees to be vaccinated by Sept. 30. A group of Denver police officers unsuccessfully sued to block the mandate. Since then, The Denver Post reported that 15 police officers, seven sheriff’s deputies and five firefighters have resigned or retired due to the vaccine mandate. That amounts to less than 1% of those three agencies sworn staff members.
Law enforcement and first responders nationwide pushed to be included among the first groups to have access to Covid-19 vaccines.
More police officers have died from Covid-19 infections than any other cause in 2020 and 2021, according to data from the Officer Down Memorial Page, a database that tracks line of duty deaths in law enforcement. A total of 473 law enforcement officers’ deaths were linked to Covid-19 during that time.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.