With a vaccine mandate soon going into effect for city employees, Chicago officials are expressing concerns about potential staffing issues among first responders and police officers, even amid assurances that those issues won’t impact the city this weekend.
The concern is widespread, as Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara has encouraged union members not to adhere to the terms of the city’s new vaccine mandate, which officially takes effect on Friday.
“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,” he said.
City officials say that employees who don’t adhere to the mandate, filling out information on a health portal set up by the health department, will be designated as non-disciplinary non-paid status.
While Mayor Lori Lightfoot says that employees won’t be designated in that way for several days, there are still concerns about police officers not reporting for work, something that the department says won’t happen this weekend.
“I can assure you that this is not true. CPD will be fully staffed and ready to protect residents of this city,” Brian McDermott, chief of the Bureau of Patrol, said. “It is our full expectation that all CPD members will comply with the city’s policy.”
At City Hall, aldermen didn’t sound so confident, with some encouraging Lightfoot to postpone the implementation of the mandate, which both the police and fire unions in the city have promised to challenge in court.
“I don’t think people realize what could happen if hundreds of officers don’t show up for work,” Ald. Matthew O'Shea said. “Are we prepared for several hundred first responders not being there this weekend?”
Ald. Brian Hopkins says that the public needs to be assured that they won’t have their safety compromised if officers are stripped of their pay amid the vaccine mandate debate.
“We have to clarify, say ‘let’s everyone take the weekend to hit the reset button on this, let tempers cool down, and have the union and administration talk this thing through,” he said. “We can’t have police walk off the job, but we have to stand by a vaccination mandate. We have to incentivize and maybe add a carrot to the stick to get police officers to comply.”
Any city employee that hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID will be required to submit to twice-weekly testing, according to the city’s vaccine directive. Any employee not complying with those requirements could face disciplinary action, including and up to termination.
Editor's note: The original version of this story mis-attributed a quote to Chicago Ald. Brendan Reilly. This has been corrected.