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Lightfoot blinks — sort of — on vaccine mandate

The mayor still plans to enforce Friday’s deadline for city workers to disclose their vaccination status, apply for exemptions and agree to testing if they aren’t vaccinated. But no one will be sent home immediately, even if they defy the mandate.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Thursday morning, Oct. 14, 2021.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides at Thursday’s Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The police union’s warning that Chicago will be forced to get by this weekend with only half its police force dissipated Thursday when Mayor Lori Lightfoot blinked — sort of.

Lightfoot said she has a “contingency plan” to protect Chicago that includes the Illinois State Police, but it won’t be needed this weekend because it will take the city a few days to determine which employees have complied with her vaccine mandate.

The mayor made it clear she still intends to enforce Friday’s deadline for city employees to upload their vaccine status on the city’s data portal, apply for medical or religious exemptions and agree to twice-weekly testing if they don’t get vaccinated.

But nobody who shows up for work will be sent home immediately, even if they ignore the mandate, because City Hall is determined to get it right.

“As you might imagine, it’s gonna take us a little bit of time to make sure that we’ve go information correct. And we want to make sure that we’re reaching out to people who appear not to be in compliance to determine if that’s, in fact, so,” Lightfoot told a news conference after Thursday’s City Council meeting.

“We want to do belt-and-suspenders on this and give people the benefit of the doubt. But, once we understand that people have not complied with the simple request to say yes or no or that I’m going to take the testing options, then, yes, we will be moving forward and putting people into no-pay status.”

Lightfoot hedged when asked how long it might take for City Hall to check and double-check.

“It’s not gonna be weeks. But it’s not gonna be Saturday or Sunday. It’s gonna take us … a couple of days to make sure that we’ve got the information correct... I don’t think that process will be complete over the weekend,” she said.

The mayor demanded that officers assigned to work over the weekend, particularly those “on a 24-hour shift,” report for work. If they don’t, the penalty for that “insubordination” will be swift and severe.

“People need to show up. They need to do their jobs. If they are placed into a no-pay status, if that time ever comes, they’re gonna be told that by a supervisor. And unless and until that time happens, report for duty,” she said.

Earlier this week, Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara had warned Chicago could be forced to get by this weekend with a police force of “50% or less.”

Catanzara has urged his members not to report their COVID-19 vaccine status and directed them to report to work, as scheduled, on Friday and force the city to send them home.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) has urged the mayor to repeal the mandate or risk “chaos” in a city with 1,000 police vacancies already struggling a continued surge in homicides.

On Thursday, Lightfoot said she expects no shortage of officers, even after the penalty phase begins.

The mayor said she “of course” has a “contingency plan” for an officer shortage. She refused to reveal specifics, except to say the Illinois State Police “have been incredible partners with us, particularly over these last two years” and “if there is a need for us to lean into those resources, then we will.”

Flanked by First Deputy Police Superintendent Eric Carter and the Chicago Police Department’s chief of operations Brian McDermott, Lightfoot expressed confidence that rank-and-file police officers will defy “an FOP leadership that is not telling them the truth, that has misled them and is tantamount to pushing them over a cliff without a parachute.”

“I know our men and women of the Police Department are smarter than that. And I am confident that they will be in compliance. And if they’re not, obviously there will be consequences,” she said.

Sheriff postpones shot deadline as compliance picks up

Sheriff Tom Dart also has mandated vaccinations for all corrections officers at the Cook County Jail, with a Sunday deadline for officers to get at least their first jab, despite vehement opposition from their union, Teamsters Local 700.

Dart months ago issued an order that officers disclose their vaccination status and the Teamsters did not call on members to refuse en masse, Local 700 Secretary-Treasurer Anthony McGee said. Officers withholding that information have so far not been disciplined, McGees said.

“The union strongly believes that this is a mandatory subject of bargaining,” McGee said. “We’ve said that should be the choice of the members.”

However, the consensus among most labor lawyers is that vaccine mandates will be upheld by courts and labor panels, and that employers are not required to bargain with workers over that subject, said Martin Malin, emeritus professor of labor law at Chicago-Kent Law School.

But Thursday, Dart spokesman Matt Walberg said after there was a noticeable increase in staff reporting vaccinations — about 65 percent of active duty Sheriff’s Department personnel have gotten shots — the office decided to postpone the Sunday deadline “to allow more time for voluntary compliance.”

Contributing: Andy Grimm