On Sunday mornings, for more years than I care to contemplate, I wake before dawn and write a column for the Monday paper. Which is odd, from a contractual point of view, since I do not officially work on Sundays. My actual schedule ... checking ... says I am on the clock Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
So should I decide, some sleepy Sunday morning, that I just don’t feel like writing a column, I would be within my contractual rights simply not to. When my editor inevitably sends a puzzled where-the-heck-is-it? message, I could explain that this is a union scheduling issue.
Except I would never do that. First, because it would make me a jerk and a bad employee. Second, it would burden my colleagues and undercut the institution that I love. Third, I would be shirking my life’s work, something I still enjoy doing. And fourth, my boss could just say, “So why didn’t you write it Friday? You were working then, in theory ...”
Truth is, given that much of my job involves noticing things and thinking about stuff, plus fretting over what I’ve just written and cooking up something to write next, I don’t know how you could possibly divide between time spent working and time off. “Sooner or later,” as Bruce Springsteen sings, “it just becomes your life.”
Which is why I’m so unsympathetic to the Fraternal Order of Police and its endless battle against vaccine mandates. In strictly union terms, just as I could sit on my hands next Sunday morning, FOP President John Catanzara is also technically correct: The city is asking police officers to do something that isn’t in their formal union contract. Requiring a vaccine is definitely a change in work conditions.
You know what else isn’t in any contract? A requirement that community residents talk to police after they witness a crime. Indeed, it is in their immediate best interests not to step onto their front stoop and finger the gangbanger down the street. Yet there are the police, knocking on doors, asking for the public’s help, without compensation beyond serving justice and living in a better community. Values the police seem to shrug off easily.
It was hard before, and now police are going on record as expecting a level of sacrifice from others that they themselves refuse to consider.
At least their leadership refuses. Three-fourths of the force has reported their vaccine status. A reminder that Catanzara, like every bad cop, is propped up by the code of silence, and the deep fear all police have of breaking ranks. Most officers, some no doubt shaking their heads in a level of disgust approaching my own, ignored Catanzara.
You know who are managing to do what police officers can’t? Children. Kids like Dante Garcia, 9, who was one of the first children lining up to get vaccinated this week.
“It’s important because I don’t want to get anyone sick and I don’t want to get sick,” Dante told the Sun-Times, showing a humanity and logic that somehow elude the FOP
To understand how low, from a perception point of view, this stunt sinks the force, imagine a hypothetical Chicago Police Department where they leapt to get their vaccines, to protect themselves and others, while encouraging the public to do the same. Impossible, right? When an innocent civilian is killed by police, officers will often later insist that if only the victim had complied with instructions, this tragedy could have been avoided. Their argument is, if a person in authority tells you to do something, do it. Except when it’s themselves being told to do something important. That’s a different story.
Yes, it is their right. Just as it is the right of a neighbor to slam the door in an investigating officer’s face and my right to neglect to write Monday’s column. All rights, no responsibilities. A line from the next Republican Party platform. Maybe it should be the new CPD motto, replacing the outdated “Serve and protect.” Or maybe they could just add a codicil, “ ... when contractually obligated.” Just as talk of patriotism rings hollow after you back a traitor, so it’s hard to brag about your own heroism when you cower at a pinprick and go hide behind paperwork.