CHICAGO — The chief of the union that represents rank-and-file Chicago police officers warned that the force could be at half-strength over the weekend as a result of a City Hall mandate that officers must be either vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested regularly for the coronavirus.
Saying the mayor’s office has refused to bargain in good faith, John Catanzara, head of Chicago Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police, or FOP, said the union planned to file a class action lawsuit if city officials follow through on a promise to place police officers into “no-paid” status for refusing to participate in the city’s vaccination portal.
“All I can tell you is, if, [as] we suspect, the numbers are true, and we get a large number of our members to stand firm on their beliefs, that this is an overreach, and they’re not going to provide the information in the portal or submit to testing, then it’s safe to say that the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50 percent or less for this weekend coming up,” Catanzara said Tuesday in a video message.
“That is not because of the FOP. That is 100 percent because of the mayor’s unwillingness to budge from her hard line,” he continued. “So whatever happens because of that manpower issue, that falls at the mayor’s doorstep. This could have all been avoided, but it literally has been like everything else with this mayor for the last two and a half years, ‘Do it, or else, because I said so.’ Well, we say otherwise.”
Catanzara said union representatives would notify the mayor’s office of a demand for expedited arbitration and file an unfair labor practice complaint with the labor board Tuesday, with more legal challenges to follow.
“Tomorrow, we will be filing court paperwork for a temporary restraining order and try and get some relief in the courts and see where we go from there,” Catanzara said. “This is very clearly not a job action, not a call for a strike, none of that illegal stuff that I’m sure the city is going to try and make it out to be.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot initially announced a vaccine mandate for police officers and other city workers on Aug. 25, prior to negotiating any such agreements with the unions representing those workers. The deadline was set at Oct. 15.
Last week, Lightfoot announced that city employees who agree to participate in twice-weekly COVID-19 testing would be able to stay on the job past that deadline.
Gov. Pritzker announced plans for a similar mandate prior to bargaining with unions representing state workers, some of which have subsequently come to an agreement over the matter.
Urging his members not to voluntarily provide their vaccination status through the city’s vaccination portal, Catanzara said city negotiators had refused to differentiate between religious exemptions and “conscientious” objections, as described in the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act. The governor’s office this week called for the law to be amended.