What to Know
- Chicago's vaccine mandate for employees goes into effect Friday
- The police union president says they will challenge the mandate in court, urging members not to comply with order
- The mayor says she isn't concerned about staffing issues, but that "contingency plans are in place" in the event of officers refusing the mandate
As Chicago police union leaders encourage their members to refuse what they call an “illegal order,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she does not expect staffing shortages of police officers this weekend as the city’s vaccine mandate for employees goes into effect.
Friday marks a deadline for city employees to visit a health information portal to provide information on whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Employees who have not been vaccinated will be required to submit to bi-weekly COVID testing, and those who refuse to comply with the mandate will be subject to discipline, according to officials.
Bi-weekly testing will be permitted until the end of the year, after which time the employees will either have to be fully vaccinated, or have a valid exemption from getting the shots.
Chicago’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police has urged members not to comply with the mandate, with union President John Catanzara promising legal action against Lightfoot’s administration for what he calls an “illegal” order.
“It is an improper order. It’s illegal,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s Superintendent (David) Brown. If somebody orders you to go into the portal, refuse that order.”
Catanzara is urging union members to document any refusal to fill out information on the vaccine portal, and says that the union will “deal with it” as the mandate goes into effect.
In remarks following Thursday’s City Council meeting, Lightfoot said that the city will not begin to put employees on “non-disciplinary no-pay status” for several days following the start of the new mandate, allowing officials to determine whether the employees are not in compliance with the directive. She added that Friday’s deadline is a reminder that they are serious about enforcing the measure.
“Tomorrow’s a real day, and our expectation is that people will comply,” she said.
Lightfoot dismissed statements made by Catanzara that up to 50% of the city’s police officers would not comply with the mandate, leading to potential staffing issues in coming days.
Lightfoot does not expect shortages of officers, but says there are contingency plans in place.
“We don’t expect that to be an issue this weekend. We fully expect that members will show up, and unless they’re told to go home, they need to report for duty,” she said.
Lightfoot said that a refusal to comply with the mandate and to provide the required information would be seen as an act of “insubordination,” and a refusal of a legal directive.
“They’re going to comply with a legal directive from the city, and an order from the police department,” she said. “Anything less would be insubordination. I hope that members of the department are not led over the cliff without a parachute by anybody who tells them they can just ignore legal proper direction.”
Lightfoot says reports that the city has asked for “detailed, confidential and privileged medical information” through the vaccine portal are inaccurate, and that the portal is HIPAA-compliant.
“It’s pretty straightforward. Are you vaccinated or not? If you are, upload your information. If you’re not, go to a separate page, and you indicate that you’ll be taking the testing option,” she said.
Several Chicago aldermen, including Ald. Matt O’Shea and Marty Quinn, have called on Lightfoot to reconsider the implementation of the mandate, but Lightfoot and her administration have remained firm that it will stay in place.
According to the terms of the directive, any employee not filling out information on the portal, or refusing to submit to the required testing, would be subject to discipline “up to and including termination.”
Lightfoot says that the city will provide data on compliance, breaking down the information by department in coming days.
Chicago Fire Department First Deputy Commissioner Mary Sheridan says the department will be fully staffed this weekend, but in a three-hour meeting on Thursday, a union representing firefighters voted to join the FOP in its legal challenge to the mandate.
Concerns do remain about staffing once the mandate begins to be enforced, with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker telling reporters that he has offered “every resource” to city officials, should the need arise. He did emphasize that city officials have not asked for that assistance at this time.
Pritzker: “We’ve offered every resource, every public safety resource that’s available to the state to offer to municipalities and the city of Chicago. So if the city calls, we’ll respond,” he said.