Chicago mayor vows ‘consequences’ for workers who miss vaccine deadline; unions push back

The FOP put out a statement saying that unvaccinated members will only need to be tested regularly


By John Byrne
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday promised unspecified “consequences” for city workers who don’t meet an Oct. 15 deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19, even as the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police told its members unvaccinated cops will only be subjected to coronavirus testing starting midmonth, not loss of pay or firing.

The mayor’s vaccine mandate is shaping up as a test of wills with her antagonists in the police union and other labor organizations representing many employees who don’t want to get the vaccine.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers questions at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Chicago on Feb. 19, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers questions at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Chicago on Feb. 19, 2021. (Jose M. Osorio)

Lightfoot tried to take a hard line Friday, but offered few specifics about what stick she will wield against those who don’t comply. “We want to make sure that people are given every opportunity to comply with the mandate before Oct. 15, and obviously if that doesn’t happen, then there will be further steps that are taken,” she said.

“What I’m saying is there will be consequences if people are not complying with what the policy is by Oct. 15. Yes, of course,” Lightfoot added. “As I said at the beginning, I believe in accountability. Again, I don’t want to go there yet, and I’m hoping we don’t ever have to go there. I’m hoping people abide with the policy.”

The FOP put out a statement to members Friday afternoon saying “the Oct. 15 deadline, for now, will only deal with an addition of a testing protocol for anyone not vaccinated including those who get an exemption. There will be no one going into a no pay status on the 15th because of this deadline.”

The mayor challenged that position.

“No, they have to be vaccinated. Every employee in the city of Chicago has to be vaccinated,” she said. “Now, I haven’t gotten a full readout from the meeting today, but it’s foolish, when we’ve buried four police officers who’ve died of COVID. We just last week memorialized their stars at police public safety headquarters.”

Adding to the confusion, city public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady on Thursday said there would “at least initially” be “testing requirements for city of Chicago employees who are not vaccinated by the deadline, and we’ll have more to share about how long that option may last as negotiations continue.”

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter put out his own statement Friday, saying the labor organization had not agreed to any vaccination standards, and urging the city not to send out messages to unionized city employees telling them they need to get vaccinated by mid-October.

“Furthermore, if the city plans to share details with its workforce of a yet-to-be-announced policy, we encourage them to be consistent in their communications so as not to confuse, frustrate or provide additional anxiety to a workforce that has been sacrificing their health and safety for the past 18 months,” Reiter’s statement reads in part.

City employees received an email Thursday from the mayor’s office reminding them that, because it takes two weeks after a final vaccine dose to reach full protection, employees needed to get their second shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or their first shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, by Friday in order to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. Those seeking a medical or religious exemption must apply by the same date, and those will be “processed on a case by case basis in the order they are received,” the email said.

The latest standoff on the vaccine rules comes after six aldermen earlier this week sent Lightfoot a letter urging her to scrap the mandate, calling it “an infringement on (workers’) personal freedoms.” Those signing were Aldermen Derrick Curtis, 18th; Silvana Tabares, 23rd; Felix Cardona, 31st; Nick Sposato, 38th; Anthony Napolitano, 41st; and Jim Gardiner, 45th.

FOP President John Catanzara received criticism from Lightfoot, and the Anti-Defamation League, when he compared the vaccine mandate to the Holocaust.

©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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