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Judge to rule next week in lawsuit by police seeking to halt vaccine mandate for city workers

Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell said he will issue his ruling Monday. On Friday, a federal judge could issue a ruling in another lawsuit over the mandate brought by a group of firefighters and water department employees.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 members and their supporters protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside City Hall before a Chicago City Council meeting, Monday morning, Oct. 25, 2021.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 members and their supporters protested against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside City Hall on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A Cook County judge said he will deliver a ruling next week on whether the city must halt its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for police officers.

Judge Raymond Mitchell heard arguments in the case Thursday afternoon from attorneys for the Fraternal Order of Police and the city of Chicago.

The FOP is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the city from enforcing its order requiring all city workers to share their vaccination status on an online portal and submit to twice-weekly testing if they are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. All employees must be vaccinated by Jan. 1.

Joel D’Alba, the police union’s attorney, argued an arbitrator is needed to help negotiate the vaccine mandates, and the city should be ordered to stop enforcing its mandate until the matter is resolved.

Mitchell interjected with questions occasionally, such as asking why the FOP is against requiring officers to disclose their vaccination status to the city when they are already “required to supply all kinds of medical information.”

D’Alba said the portal for reporting vaccine status is untrustworthy and is different than how traditional medical records are stored.

The city agreed there was a need to go into arbitration but its attorney said it needs to be able to enforce the citywide mandate for its employees.

But Mitchell said this current mandate presents a unique issue in this labor dispute if arbitration isn’t complete by Jan. 1. How can an officer seek remedy through arbitration if they’ve already been vaccinated?

“With regard to reporting and testing — an arbitrator decides that wasn’t proper, [and then] the reports, the tests can be purged but the vaccine can’t. That can’t be undone,” Mitchell said. “Isn’t there a real risk that the plaintiffs will, if you will, not lose their day in court but lose their way in a meaningful arbitration if they have to submit to the vaccine before the arbitrator has adjudicated their claims?”

Michael Warner, an attorney for the city, said that risk doesn’t justifies issuing a restraining order. If an officer doesn’t want to get a vaccine, they would be placed on a no-pay status — which is not the same as being suspended or fired — and wait until an arbitrator rules.

Mitchell said his ruling will be issued Monday afternoon. On Friday, a special meeting of the City Council has been called in an attempt to force a vote on an ordinance that would repeal the mayor’s vaccination order.

Meanwhile, a group of Chicago firefighters and water department employees have gone to federal court to challenge the vaccine mandates from City Hall and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Their bid to block those mandates is set for a potential ruling Friday before U.S. District Judge John Lee.