Over 100 firefighters, other city workers sue over vaccine mandates

An attorney for the group also petitioned for a temporary restraining and preliminary injunction Thursday that would block the enforcement of city and state vaccination mandates and prevent his clients from being suspended or fired while the suit plays out.

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Over 130 municipal workers, including a large group of Chicago Fire Department employees, filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming the vaccination mandates imposed by the city and state are unconstitutional.

Filed in federal court in Chicago, the suit challenges an executive order signed Sept. 3 by Gov. J.B. Pritzker requiring health care workers and certain state employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated. In addition to a host of Fire Department employees, the plaintiffs also include workers from the city’s Water and Transportation departments.

The complaint similarly pushes back against a mandate imposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, which required all city workers to report their vaccination status on the city’s portal earlier this month. The conflict over Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate has already sparked a legal battle between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 that’s playing out in Cook County court.

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The suit filed Thursday holds that the mandates extend beyond the authority of Pritzker and the city and are thus both “null and void.” 

Spokespeople for the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Kristen Cabanban, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, declined comment after noting her office hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit.

Jonathan Lubin, the attorney representing the city workers in the suit, also petitioned for a temporary restraining and preliminary injunction later Thursday that would block the enforcement of both mandates and prevent his clients from being suspended or fired while the suit plays out. 

The latest flurry of legal action came just three days after the city announced that more than a third of Chicago Police Department employees and 28% of workers from the Fire Department could face disciplinary action after defying Lightfoot’s mandate to report their vaccination status. Those were the lowest numbers for any city department, with most reporting compliance above 90%.

By Tuesday, Chicago Police Supt. David Brown acknowledged that 21 cops had been placed in a no-pay status for refusing to report their vaccination status to the city’s portal. FOP President John Catanzara had urged members of the union to ignore the requirement to report their vaccination status — a move that ultimately prompted a temporary court order in a pending case in Cook County that has blocked him from making similar public statements.

The city has sought to extend that ban — which expires Oct. 25 — while fighting off another suit filed by the police union seeking a court-ordered suspension of the city’s vaccination policy pending further bargaining and arbitration. An order issued Thursday by Judge Moshe Jacobius sent both those cases to Judge Cecilia Horan’s courtroom. 

During the hearing, Jacobius bemoaned the “sensationalization” of the ongoing vaccine mandate beef.

“Without commenting on anything specific, there’s been some comments about lowering the volume and lowering the flames and working in commonality for the people of the city of Chicago, both sides, and I think these parties should take that to heart,” he said.

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