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City Council rejects effort to repeal city’s vaccine mandate

The ordinance failed Friday by a vote of 30-13. Ald. Andre Vasquez said the repeal was backed by a “fringe minority “ within the fire and police departments. “And it is embarrassing,. ... We’re Chicago. This isn’t Arkansas.”

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) speaks during a special City Council meeting to discuss the possibility of repealing the vaccine reporting mandate for city workers at City Hall in the Loop, Friday morning, October 29, 2021.
Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) speaks during a special City Council meeting Friday about repealing the vaccine mandate for city workers.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

City Council who support a vaccine mandate for city workers weren’t shy about slamming colleagues who tried to scuttle that mandate — an effort that failed Friday by a vote of 30-13.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) said the repeal was backed by a “fringe minority “ within the city’s fire and police departments pushing a right-wing agenda.

“And it is embarrassing,” he said. “We’re Chicago. This isn’t Arkansas.”

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) was even more candid about resistance by some city employees to revealing their COVID-19 vaccination status.

“I bet you most of them are vaccinated, but they wish not to comply,” Maldonado said. “Like little kids, ‘I don’t want to do what my dad said for me to do.’ ... Let’s be adults and let’s do the right thing.”

The ordinance sought to vacate Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine order and transfer control over “all policies, rules, and regulations governing discipline of city employees” to the Council.

The vote came at a special meeting called by more than a dozen Council members, including some of the police union’s staunchest supporters, in an attempt to revive an ordinance that would repeal the mandate.

Earlier this week, that ordinance, championed by Alderpersons Silvana Tabares (23rd) and Anthony Napolitano (41st), had been shunted to the Rules Committee, where ordinances opposed by the mayor typically go to die.

Tabares said she’s worried mandate enforcement will create a critical shortage of police, firefighters, paramedics and garbage haulers.

“We don’t know how many more front-line workers are going to be sent home. We don’t know how this is going to impact garbage collection our ward, ambulance response times or police patrol levels in our communities,” she said.

Under the mandate, city workers must share their vaccination status; if they aren’t vaccinated, they must submit to regular testing until the Jan. 1 deadline, when they must be fully inoculated. Thousands of cops and firefighters have not shared their status.

“No matter how you look at this topic this is going to be documented that you were stealing people’s rights,” Napolitano said.

City workers who don’t want a jab know what they’re doing, he added. “Not a single one of them is ignorant to this virus. Not a single one of them doesn’t know the capabilities of this virus.”

Napolitano said he had hosted vaccination clinics and encouraged people to get vaccinated, “but it will be a cold day in Chicago when I force anybody to.”

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said the possibility of less cops on the street due to the mandate was unacceptable at a time when “residents quite literally feel that they are under the gun whenever they leave their homes.”

“This is about what’s going to happen Dec. 31 when all employees will have to get vaccinated or face progressive discipline ending in termination,” he said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot dismissed such talk.

“This notion that somehow public safety is going to be imperiled? Stop the fear mongering, I beg of you. Stop it. Because it’s not true,” she said.

She pointed out that five of the 35 police officers put on no-pay status because they refused to disclose their vaccination status already had come back to work.

“There’s a reason why people who said ‘I will not follow this rule’ are coming back and asking for their jobs back: because cooler heads have prevailed,” she said.

It also helped that they were “going home and their spouse said ‘You did what? No, no, no. In this household we don’t miss paychecks,” Lightfoot said.

To avoid a possible staffing shortage, the city is asking only a small number of first responders each day about their vaccination status, then giving them a final chance to change their minds before placing them on no-pay status.

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) said the mandate’s purpose was simple: to protect workers.

The mandate is “as fundamental as as a hard hat, an oxygen mask or a bulletproof vest,” she said. “It won’t protect you from everything, but it gives you a fighting chance when things go wrong. It is why we demand the same before you enroll in school, before you serve in the military or before you work with the public.”

Handing the power to the Council to decide such labor disputes would also “negate the foundation of collective bargaining as we know it,” she said, pointing to a number of pending court decisions and other actions on vaccine mandates.

“Are you willing to make City Council the final judge on every grievance or labor dispute that arises in the city? I’m not,” she said.