Dozens of Chicago firefighters sue city over vaccine mandate
A request for an injunction would prevent the city from requiring workers to disclose their vaccination status or be disciplined for not being vaccinated
CHICAGO — A group of dozens of Chicago firefighters and water department workers are asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate, the latest salvo in a battle over city rules.
The long-shot request for an injunction, filed Thursday in federal court by attorney Jonathan Lubin, would prevent the city from requiring workers to disclose their vaccination status or be disciplined for not being vaccinated.
The plaintiffs stand to lose their jobs over their “deeply held beliefs that they should not take the COVID-19 vaccine,” the lawsuit says.
The suit also challenges Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s statewide order requiring health care workers and certain other state employees to be fully vaccinated.
The employees numbering more than 100 join Chicago’s police union in seeking court intervention to try to undo the city’s vaccination mandate.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 has filed suit in Cook County against the rule, and the union’s opposition has prompted some Indiana officials to step in to try to lure disgruntled officers across the border.
Indiana U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican, spoke on Fox News this week with a pitch to Chicago police officers turned off by Lightfoot’s order to report their vaccination status: Come to the Hoosier State instead. In a Thursday statement to the Tribune, he added that “several experienced Chicago cops” have already reached out to his office.
“Our police do one of the hardest jobs in the world and they deserve respect — not heavy-handed mandates that will force them out of a job if they won’t disclose their private medical information,” Braun wrote.
Braun’s invitation was swiftly derided by Indiana Democrats who said he was once again inflaming a crisis to score political points. Jim Wieser, chair of the Lake County Democratic Party, said that the last thing his state needs is more unvaccinated workers.
“For him to invite, especially, first responders over so they don’t have to get vaccinated, it’s so absurd it almost defies logic,” Wieser said in a phone call, adding Braun “says stuff to just be inciting folks.”
Indiana Democratic Party spokesperson Drew Anderson called Braun “a bully on a situation that has nothing to do with Indiana or Hoosier families.”
“Indiana Republicans need to stop prioritizing an extreme partisan agenda that invalidates lifesaving vaccines,” Anderson wrote in a statement.
Out of the Hoosier State’s residents who are ages 12 and up — the population eligible for the coronavirus vaccine — 56.9% are fully vaccinated, according to the Indiana Department of Health. That number is 68.5% in Chicago and 63.4% across Illinois.
The neighboring state’s bickering over Lightfoot’s vaccination reporting mandate comes after 21 Chicago police officers were placed on no-pay status this week for refusing to comply with the city’s order. That requirement said all city employees had to submit their vaccination status by Oct. 15, and those who are unvaccinated can instead undergo regular COVID-19 testing for the rest of the year.
The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police has refused to cooperate, with President John Catanzara repeatedly urging members to disobey the city until a Cook County judge issued a temporary restraining order barring him from such public statements.
Almost 68% of more than 12,000 Chicago police employees have met the vaccination reporting requirement, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown said Tuesday. He maintained many staffers are choosing to comply after speaking with higher-ups about how the mandate works.
On Thursday, another Cook County judge scolded both the local FOP and the city for being unable to find any common ground for the sake of all Chicagoans.
Judge Moshe Jacobius, presiding judge of the Cook County Chancery Division, made his comments after ruling that the dueling lawsuits between the city and FOP should be heard by the same judge, Cecilia Horan, who issued the restraining order against Catanzara. The decision was a win for the city and led to FOP lawyer Joel D’Alba airing his frustrations soon after.
“You speak of frustration,” Jacobius responded. “There’s enough frustration to go around.”
With his voice getting louder, the judge continued, “There’s been some comments about lowering the volume and lowering the flames and working in commonality for the people of the city of Chicago. … You see the sensationalism, and people need to really consider everybody here … is in public service.”
D’Alba responded: “We will continue to have conversations to achieve exactly what you’re talking about.”
But in Indiana, at least two law enforcement agencies already began welcoming Chicago officers who might find themselves separated from their departments: Indiana State Police and Munster police.
“Hey Chicago Police Officers, we’re hiring!” Sgt. Glen Fifield, a spokesperson for Indiana State Police’s northwest district, wrote in a tweet Tuesday. “No vaccine mandate. Apply today. ... Lower taxes, great schools, welcoming communities.”
However, in a phone call Thursday, Fifield declined to weigh in on the issue of vaccination mandates, including the one in Chicago, because “we don’t stick our noses into the politics of other agencies in Indiana or outside.”
Fifield continued: “It’s really a nonissue for any state employee here in Indiana. All I know is that if an officer is looking to leave an agency for whatever reason, and they’re in good standing with their department, then they can consider coming to our agency.”
The tweet was deleted later Thursday afternoon, which Fifield attributed to the fact it listed an incorrect website. He added that it “probably isn’t the right decision” to send out another tweet.
Munster police Chief Steve Scheckel did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, but he rolled out a similar offer to Chicago officers on Fox News earlier this week, saying, “In Indiana, we support our law enforcement.”
Separately Thursday, Lightfoot said at an unrelated news conference the city is slowly seeing progress and she expects that police officers will stop following Catanzara’s call for defiance.
“No one will think that that’s acceptable and we certainly don’t either,” Lightfoot said.
The vaccine reporting mandate is about “creating the safest workplace possible,” Lightfoot said, and the city is only asking for basic information.
She said she’s confident “the numbers (of people reporting) will continue to rise, as they have all week long, and that people are going to wake up to the reality that they are being led over a cliff by someone who’s already destroyed his career.”
The mayor also ripped Southwest Side Ald. Silvana Tabares, 23rd, who called for the mandate to be repealed and for future ones to go through the City Council. Tabares, who’s Latina, represents a ward with many city workers and police officers.
“Honestly, I really don’t understand a woman of color carrying the water for a guy who’s demonstrated over and over again he’s racist, he’s a misogynist, he’s xenophobic, he hates immigrants and refugees, he stands in support of the 1/6ers,” Lightfoot said, in an apparent reference to Catanzara’s history of inflammatory online posts, for which he faces potential firing from the Police Department. “I think people in her ward need to ask, why is it this alderwoman is carrying the water for a guy like that?”
Tabares responded: “The mayor’s comments are divisive but not surprising and demonstrate why we need this ordinance, to have a transparent process to review proposed mandates to make sure they are about good public policy and not personality conflicts.”
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