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Lightfoot to impose vaccine mandate for city employees

“We absolutely have to have a vaccine mandate. It’s for the safety of all involved, particularly members of the public who are interacting with city employees on a daily basis,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. But the head of the police union said they’ll fight any effort to require vaccinations.

Chicago City Hall
Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday said she would require that city employees be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday there “absolutely” will be a vaccine mandate for city employees — but the police union vowed to go to court to stop it.

One month after hinting strongly Chicago would follow New York City’s lead by requiring city employees to either show proof they’ve been fully vaccinated or get tested weekly for the coronavirus, the mayor removed all doubt.

The only questions are when the mandate will be imposed, how long unvaccinated city employees will have to comply and what the punishment will be for those among the 33,000-strong workforce who ignore the mandate.

Those details will be announced in the coming days after ongoing negotiations with unions representing city employees have been finalized. The mayor’s announcement came hours after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first to move past the agency’s emergency-use phase.

“We absolutely have to have a vaccine mandate. It’s for the safety of all involved, particularly members of the public who are interacting with city employees on a daily basis. It’s important for colleagues to also feel like they have a workplace that is safe,” the mayor said.

“City employees are absolutely gonna be required to be vaccinated. We’re working through those discussions, which have been ongoing now for a couple of weeks with our colleagues in organized labor that represent city employees.”

A healthcare professional administers an injection of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center.
City employees will have to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.
Getty Images

In a text message to the Sun-Times, Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said, “Discussions around COVID-19 vaccinations are ongoing with the city.”

He added, “Any specific policy should be informed by the city workforce. We look forward to continuing those discussions.”

The CFL has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

Anders Lindall, a spokesperson for AFSCME Council 31, said Reiter is leading negotiations and the two are “on the same page.” He deferred further comment to Reiter.

Not on the same page with the mayor is Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, whose union represents rank-and-file Chicago police officers.

“It cannot be mandated. It’s that simple. Our members don’t want to be mandated to do anything like that,” Catanzara said Monday. “This vaccine has no studies for long-term side effects or consequences. None. To mandate anybody to get that vaccine, without that data as a baseline, amongst other issues, is a ‘Hell, no’ for us.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday lauded the full approval of the Pfizer vaccine but stopped short of endorsing additional inoculation mandates for state workers. Earlier this month, Pritzker announced state employees who work in congregate settings, like prisons and veterans homes, must be vaccinated by Oct. 1.

And while acknowledging some Illinoisans have been “hesitant” to get jabbed, Pritzker said he believes the FDA’s move will now bolster vaccination numbers and push businesses to institute their own requirements.

“We now have so much research to show these work. I’m very happy about that,” Pritzker said during a news conference at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “I think that that means many more people will choose to get vaccinated and I do think that there will be private institutions that will choose to require vaccinations.”

Hours after the FDA granted full-use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine, Lightfoot was asked about city plans for booster shots.

“In the short-term, don’t believe that we will need to stand up the huge vaccination sites that we’ve seen before. But a lot of that is gonna depend on what the final CDC guidance is and, obviously, making sure that we’ve got logistical and other resources support,” she said.

In the meantime, the city’s laser-like focus remains on convincing unvaccinated Chicagoans to roll up their sleeves.

“When we see that well over 97% of the people who are showing up in hospitals and ending up in ICU beds or worse — and there have been deaths — are among the unvaccinated, we know that there’s a lot more work to be done,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor noted six to eight city ZIP codes, “primarily” on the South Side, have vaccination rates of “30% or less.”

“If we raise the percentage by neighborhood, by ZIP code who are vaccinated, then we’re gonna go a long way toward starting to see the pandemic in the rear view mirror,” the mayor said.

“But where we’ve got numbers like that in certain ZIP codes … we’ve got work to do. … We’ve just got to keep pushing more and more people who are on the fence, who aren’t vaccinated, to get vaccinated.”

The city’s vaccination numbers slightly outpace statewide total. As of Sunday, nearly 55% of Chicagoans were fully vaccinated, compared to more than 52% of Illinoisans.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Public Health said the city is “well-prepared to administer vaccinations in an ongoing fashion due to the huge efforts to enroll close to 700 providers to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.

“COVID-19 vaccines are widely available at pharmacies, health care facilities, and through special events across the City at no cost to the public,” the spokesperson added.

In addition, the department has also expanded capacity and extended the hours of its Protect Chicago At Home program, which offers in-home inoculations to anyone aged 12 and over. To learn more, visit Chicago.gov/COVIDvax or call (312) 746-4835.