Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) are locked in a standoff over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. After the mayor announced city employees would be required to take the vax or subject to twice-weekly testing, the head of the local police union responded by urging officers not to comply with the mandate. Now, the conflict is headed to court.
Lightfoot’s order required all city employees to submit proof they have taken the jab by Friday, October 15. Those who fail to report would be placed on non-pay, non-disciplinary leave. This could affect nearly half of the city’s police force. At a time when Chicago is experiencing disturbing levels of crime, the mandate’s conditions could have a devastating impact on the city.
Lightfoot Strikes Back
The mayor on Friday filed a complaint against John Catanzara, who heads the city’s police union, over his demand that officers refuse to conform with her COVID measures. She released a statement that read:
“As Chicago’s Mayor, I cannot and will not stand idly by while the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists threatens the health and safety of Chicago’s residents and first responders. President Catanzara has time and again deliberately misled our police officers by lying about the requirements of the policy and falsely claiming that there will be no repercussions if officers are insubordinate and refuse to follow a City and Department directive or order.”
Lightfoot also contended that Catanzara is “engaging in, supporting, and encouraging a work stoppage or strike” and insisted that state law and the FOP contract forbid officers from holding a strike.
The FOP took to Twitter to defend Catanzara, arguing that he “has never engaged in, supported, or encouraged a work stoppage.” The FOP president on Oct. 12 posted a video on YouTube in which he said the union would be seeking a temporary restraining order to compel arbitration over the vaccine mandate and denied that he is calling for a strike:
“Tomorrow [Oct. 13], we will be filing court paperwork for a temporary restraining order and try and get some relief in the courts and see where we go from there. What does that mean to the membership? This is very clearly not a job action, not a call for a strike. None of that illegal stuff that I’m sure the city is going to try and make it out to be.”
Catanzara also asked officers to file for religious exemptions on Thursday instead of going through the city’s online portal to report their vaccination status.
Who Will Win?
It is not quite clear whether Catanzara’s actions constitute a call for a strike. Matthew Finkin, a labor law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, told the Chicago Tribune that it could be considered a strike if the court views it as a “concerted job action.”
“They’re rolling the dice,” Finkin continued. “There can be severe consequences.”
Martin Malin, a law professor emeritus at Chicago-Kent College of Law, characterized the FOP’s actions as “uncharted territory.” He noted that Catanzara seems to be banking on using political pressure rather than legal. “It’s one thing whether you have the legal right to do something; it’s another thing as to whether you have the power to do it,” he explained. “How much is real and how much is posturing? And Catanzara and Lightfoot don’t get along at all, so you’ve got to factor that in as well.”
While it is not clear which party will gain the upper hand in this conflict, it still highlights the overall debate over vaccine mandates – especially in larger cities. Catanzara is not the only law enforcement type who has opposed these measures. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva also stated on Thursday that he would not compel employees to get vaxxed as the department is already “barebones.”
The debate over vaccines is far from over. But with President Joe Biden poised to begin enforcement of his nationwide mandate, it can be expected to intensify in the coming weeks.
~ Read more from Jeff Charles.