CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate for Chicago Police officers was upheld by an arbitrator who rejected the Fraternal Order of Police’s grievances over the city’s rules, she announced Wednesday at a news conference.
Lightfoot said she hopes the ruling will be a “signal for those members who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated.”
A visibly pleased Lightfoot made the announcement at her customary post-City Council meeting.
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In a YouTube video posted Wednesday evening, John Catanzara, president of the local FOP chapter, signaled he would have more to say later this week but conceded the arbitrator did decide that “we will be forced to get the vaccine.”
”Stay tuned to that and hold the line,” said Catanzara, who reiterated that he will run for mayor in 2023. “This mayor, this dictator — I can’t even call (her) a mayor anymore — is more concerned about this nonsense and taking a victory lap as this variant disappears. ... She doesn’t care about crime. She don’t care about victims. She doesn’t care about anything but a win.”
The ruling sets a March 13 deadline for officers to receive a first dose of the shot, with a second shot due by April 13, though the ruling allows for extensions where someone has made a good-faith effort to get a first-shot appointment.
The vaccine rule led the city and the FOP to sue each other, with the union aiming to have the matter arbitrated and the city aiming to stop Catanzara from openly encouraging his members to defy the requirement that they report their vaccine status to the city. Some officers were placed on no-pay status for refusing to report.
The FOP succeeded in getting the matter in front of an arbitrator, and the city succeeded in persuading a judge to issue a temporary restraining order against Catanzara.
Arbitrator George Roumell — who also upheld the vaccine mandate for firefighters in December — said the city did not violate its collective bargaining agreements with the FOP and other police unions in laying out its COVID-19 vaccination policy last year.
The Police Department and city have the right as employers to add such a requirement as long as it does not contradict the rest of the contract, he said.
”There is no language in any of the (agreements) that would prohibit the exercise of management rights by promulgating a COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Roumell wrote.
Roumell also cited the toll of coronavirus on the Police Department, noting that six officers have died of the virus and more than 6,000 have tested positive.
The arbitrator also scuttled the unions’ argument that placing Chicago police members on no-pay status for refusing to report their vaccination status constituted discipline, which would require more arbitration.
He said “it is within the exclusive control” of the officer when they would regain their police powers and paycheck by reporting their vaccination status.
As of Tuesday, nearly a quarter of the Chicago Police Department’s 12,300 employees remained unvaccinated, according to city data. That compares to about 12% of the total city workforce.
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