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FOP president urges new level of resistance to vaccine mandate

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara said he “tried to negotiate or mediate a settlement” with the city that would have allowed roughly 30 officers already on no-pay status to “go back to work for the time being.”

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara addresses a group of union protesters and their supporters outside City Hall as they rally against a requirement that police, like all other city employees, get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara addresses a group of union protesters and their supporters outside City Hall last week at a rally against a requirement that police, like all other city employees, get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Fraternal Order of Police Union President John Catanzara on Wednesday urged Chicago Police officers to refuse to post their vaccine status on the city’s data portal, demand union representation during “counseling sessions” and force the city to open an internal investigation before placing them on no-pay status.

Catanzara’s demand for continued rank-and-file resistance comes two days after a Circuit Court judge handed the police union a partial victory — by issuing a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city from enforcing the Dec. 31 deadline for police officers to be vaccinated until an arbitrator rules on the issue or until there is a negotiated compromise.

But Judge Raymond Mitchell denied the union’s request to block the city from mandating that police officers report their vaccine status on the city’s data portal or be placed on no-pay status if they refuse.

After that ruling, Catanzara said, he “tried to negotiate or mediate a settlement” with the city to allow roughly 30 officers already on no-pay status for “disobeying a direct order” to “go back to work for the time being” while the city and the union “focus on arbitration.”

Forty-eight hours later, Catanzara said he still does “not have an answer from the city” on whether or not the compromise is acceptable.

“The goal now is to have over 1,000 or 2,000 officers subject themselves to disobeying a direct order. They can never process that many,” he said in a video posted Wednesday on the union’s Facebook page.

“We tried to be fair and meet ’em in the middle. It doesn’t do any good with this city or this mayor. ... That is why we’re asking every single one of you to disobey the order at the third step. … You will not miss a paycheck. You will not miss a day’s pay. Everybody has been treated the same to this point. They cannot change the process mid-stream.”

Law Department spokesperson Kristen Cabanan had no immediate comment on Catanzara’s call for a new level of resistance from the rank-and-file.

Earlier this week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city has tried to negotiate a compromise since August, only to be stonewalled by a union intent on running out the clock.

“It’s just not correct that they’re serious about getting a deal done. What they’re serious about is obstructing, obfuscating and telling half-truths to lead their members astray,” the mayor said.

In his ruling, Mitchell called the reporting requirement “a minimal intrusion,” noting officers “already are obligated to provide medical information to their employer. He added later: “In all other respects, the City’s vaccination policy remains in effect, and all other relief sought by Plaintiffs is denied.”

Still, in Wednesday’s video, Catanzara said he was clearing up what he called “confusion” about the ruling.

“The judge simply said that the vaccine deadline of Dec. 31 needed to go to arbitration because there would be no remedy in arbitration if everybody was in compliance by then and arbitration was held after the fact. He did not say the portal was 100% OK and he had no concerns with it,” Catanzara said.

“That does not mean that we are now OK with the portal in any way shape or form. We have major concerns about the portal, security of it, HIPPA questions and all of that stuff, security that the city has never addressed, never provided any information other than ‘It’s safe. Tough luck. Let’s move on.’ That’s been their position from the get-go. So our position is the same. … Do not comply with the portal.”

A spokesman for the mayor called Catanzara’s latest video “yet another desperate attempt by FOP leadership to encourage Chicago police officers to disobey a direct and lawful order from their chain of command.”

Catanzara in the video also walked members through the process for officers who fail to report their vaccine status.

It starts with a “counseling session” where officers should “demand” union representation. Officers will then be asked if they’re in compliance. Catanzara directed them to say no. They’ll be asked if they want to comply. He directed them to say no again.

Next, defiant officers are sent to Human Resources for one last chance to post their vaccine status on the city’s data portal. If they refuse, they’re asked for their ID, star, shield and car keys, if they drove a CPD vehicle to police headquarters.

“At that point, you’ll be sent down to the second floor, where you’ll be subject to the direct order. We are asking every single member to disobey the direct order. Have ’em generate a C.R. [complaint registered] number — in the thousands, for everybody,” Catanzara said.

“After you get the direct order and you disobey it, you can immediately go back to Human Resources, comply with the portal, if that’s your choice because you can’t go into a no pay-status and stay there. You’ll get your credentials back. You’ll be back on duty and you go back to the rest of your day. But that C.R. number will be there.”