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City Worker Vaccine Mandate Watered Down As Mayor’s Office Quietly Said They’ll Allow Routine Testing For Some

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said city workers need to get vaccinated to protect the public — but in a letter to workers, her office said those that don't can get tested.

A health care worker is vaccinated at a city-run vaccine site.
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CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said all city workers need to get vaccinated to protect themselves and the public — but her office quietly revised that policy in a letter to workers.

Instead, workers who don’t get vaccinated by the Oct. 15 deadline will be able to keep their jobs, though they’ll be required to test regularly, according to the letter. It’s not clear how long the routine testing will be allowed in place of vaccination.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s largest union for officers, also announced Friday its leaders had met with city officials and learned officers will be able to get tested instead of vaccinated and won’t lose pay, at least for the time being.

That measure would appear to contradict Lightfoot’s hardline stance on getting workers vaccinated.

When announcing the vaccine mandate in August, Lightfoot said all workers would have to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. That meant all workers would have to have their final shot as of Friday.

Lightfoot did not mention testing in her August announcement, nor was it mentioned in a news release explaining the mandate at the time.

Lightfoot has repeatedly pushed for workers to get fully vaccinated, saying it’s needed to ensure city staff is protected from coronavirus — and thereby protect the members of the public they interact with.

“The only way that we can really, truly maximize safety in the workplace” is through vaccines, Lightfoot said at a news conference last week.

In late August, she said, “We owe it to the public to also make sure they’re protected so we’re protected.”

But a letter sent last week from the city to some workers says those who don’t comply can instead get tested.

“Employees who are not fully vaccinated by October 15, 2021 will need to undergo regular COVID-19 testing,” according to the letter sent to employees. In another part, it says, “Additional information about testing, including how long the testing option will be available and how to submit test results will be provided as soon as the policy is finalized.”

And Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department, said Thursday city workers who don’t get vaccinated can test routinely, though the details of that agreement are still being worked out.

The Mayor’s Office has not responded to repeated requests for comment and clarification of the city’s mandate.

Workers told Block Club they’ve gotten mixed messages, with some receiving emails mentioning the testing while others got emails as recently as Thursday that only said people must get vaccinated.

And at a news conference Friday, Lightfoot again said workers must get vaccinated.

“We are still in the midsts of discussions with our colleagues in organized labor,” Lightfoot said. “The final ink on the deal has not been drafted. … But primarily, we cannot maximize the safety of our workplaces without people being fully vaccinated. That is my goal. So, Oct. 15 is real. We’ll be announcing more developments next week. But we’ve got to get people vaccinated.”

The Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents a large number of city workers, said in an emailed statement it has not reached a deal with the city and is encouraging the city to “be consistent in their communications so as not to confuse, frustrate or provide additional anxiety to a workforce that has been sacrificing their health and safety for the past 18 months.”

The mandate has proven controversial, with the police union saying it opposes the measure. The Chicago Federation of Labor also criticized the mandate when Lightfoot announced it, saying the measure could “harden opposition to the vaccine.”

But Lightfoot has insisted the mandate is still a go — while criticizing the police union for not negotiating with the city over the measure.

The city’s mandate also excludes aldermen, with the Mayor’s Office saying they cannot be forced by Lightfoot to get their shots.

The revised policy matches what is being done elsewhere; for example, the state has pushed for workers to get vaccinated and said that those who don’t will have to get tested.

Everyone 12 and older is eligible to get vaccinated in Chicago.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free and do not require insurance. Anyone can call the city’s coronavirus hotline at 312-746-4835 to get more information on how and where to get vaccinated in their community.

Justin Laurence contributed to this report.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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