Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday forged ahead with an Oct. 15 vaccine mandate for all city employees over strenuous and united opposition from all four police unions.
“As cases continue to rise, we must take every step necessary and at our disposal to keep everyone in our city safe and healthy,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a press release.
“Getting vaccinated has been proven to be the best way to achieve that and make it possible to recover from this devastating pandemic. And so, we have decided to join other municipalities and government agencies across the nation, including the U.S. military, who are making this decision to protect the people keeping our cities and counties moving.”
The press release doesn’t say what happens to city employees who refuse to comply, just that the new policy “applies to all city employees and volunteers” and takes effect Oct. 15.
Employees “can apply for medical or religious exemptions.” Those requests would be reviewed the city’s Department of Human Resources on a “case-by-case basis.”
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara has been at loggerheads with Lightfoot on many issues, and this time, he’s not alone.
“It ain’t just our guys. It’s the sergeants, lieutenants and captains. This is a united front. ... It’s no longer John Catanzara’s big mouth, like they like to spin it all the time,” Catanzara said Wednesday.
“This has literally lit a bomb underneath the membership. ... And what are they gonna do when four or five thousand coppers say, ‘Screw you. I’m staying home. You’re not making me get this f---ing vaccination. Don’t pay me. That’s fine. We’ll see you in court.’”
Catanzara said he’s not threatening a blue-flu style protest. He claims the city is literally talking about “putting people on no-pay status who refuse to get” the vaccination.
“You’re not gonna pay me. You’re gonna make me stay home. But you’re gonna have thousands of coppers willing to stay home, not getting paid to not get a vaccine and then, what are you gonna do for manpower on the streets?” he said.
Earlier this week, Catanzara told the Sun-Times there are “no studies for long-term side-effects or consequences” from coronavirus vaccines.
On Wednesday, he doubled down on that argument in a profanity-laced tirade.
“We’re in America, G-ddamn it. We don’t want to be forced to do anything. Period. This ain’t Nazi f---ing Germany, [where they say], ‘Step into the f---ing showers. The pills won’t hurt you.’ What the f--k?” he said.
“Nobody knows what the long term side effects could possibly be. Nobody. And anybody who says they do are full of s--t.”
Catanzara’s analogy was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
“The comparison of mandatory vaccinations to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust is factually incorrect and deeply offensive to the millions of innocent people killed at the hands of the Nazis,” the group tweeted, calling on Catanzara to apologize.
Speaking after a mental health roundtable on Wednesday, Lightfoot stood by her decision to require police officers to be vaccinated, noting that “the leading killer of police officers through the pandemic is the virus.”
The mayor further insisted city workers who interact closely with the public, like police officers, are acting irresponsibly and putting those they serve in danger if they refuse to be vaccinated.
“Coming to work, particularly in a job where you’ve gotta interface with the public on a regular basis, and you’re not vaccinated — not only are you putting yourself at risk, you’re putting every single person that you come into contact with at risk.”
Lightfoot has argued the city has no choice but to join New York City and Cook County in issuing 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 earlier this week.
“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.”
Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said his member unions “believe in vaccines” and believe those shots are “important to protect workers and residents.” But they don’t believe the end justifies the mayor’s means.
“We don’t think that the way to get people vaccinated is by issuing mandates and being punitive about it. What we should be doing is continuing to work together around education and encouraging people. … That has to be something that is collaborative,” Reiter said.
“I’m on board with creating a vaccine policy of some sort. I’m not on board with making it a vaccine mandate that exists in a vacuum. At a minimum, if we are going to ask people to be vaccinated, we should also be presenting a testing alternative.”
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Reiter said union leaders are discussing with the city “what a policy looks like” and those meetings will continue.
“This announcing what they want to do — or putting down a marker — is too early in the process. We are at the beginning. We’re not at the middle or at the end,” Reiter said.
“We’ve verbally told them what we think a policy should look like. We haven’t seen a response. ... It’s undefined yet as to where we end up.”
Contributing: Tom Schuba