CHICAGO — Police officers and other city workers who defy the city’s vaccine mandate will be put on no-pay status — and could be fired if they don’t show up for work, Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned Thursday.
All city workers, including police officers, are supposed to fill out an online form by 11:59 p.m. Friday confirming they are fully vaccinated or will instead get tested for COVID-19. But the president of the city’s largest police union has urged officers to defy the city by not reporting their status, suggesting that could lead to half of officers being taken off the streets.
Workers who do not tell the city their status will be contacted so the city can give them the “benefit of the doubt,” Lightfoot said. But, within a few days, those who didn’t comply will be placed on a no-pay status. In the meantime, they should still report in to work until a supervisor says otherwise, or they risk discipline and even being fired, Lightfoot said.
“No employee should abandon their post,” Lightfoot said. “Not showing up creates a whole other set of issues for them.”
John Catanzara, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, posted a video Tuesday where he urged officers to reject the mandate and not report their status. His comments came the same day a former police union boss died from COVID-19.
Catanzara said he does not think the city should be able to require workers to get vaccinated, nor does he think officers should trust the city with their private health information.
The union president said he expects the standoff over the mandate could lead to about half of officers not working. That comes as Chicago is struggling with murders, shootings and other violent crime.
“If we suspect the numbers are true and we get a large number of our members to stand firm on their beliefs that this is an overreach and they’re not going to supply the information in the portal or submit to testing, then it’s safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50 percent or less for this weekend coming up,” Catanzara said. “That is not because of the FOP; that is 100 percent because of the mayor’s unwillingness to budge from her hard line.”
Lightfoot dismissed Catanzara’s claims, saying officials “don’t expect” his staffing estimation to be an issue this weekend.
“We fully expect that members will show up and, unless they’re told to go home, they need to report for duty,” she said. “I hope that members are not led over the cliff without a parachute by anyone who tells them they can just ignore legal, proper direction.”
First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter said officers who don’t comply with the mandate can face discipline “up to and including separation,” or firing.
“For the department to get through this pandemic, we must do it together,” Carter said at Thursday’s news conference with Lightfoot. “Our job as professionals is to provide safety to the residents of Chicago, who we serve and protect.”
Four Chicago police officers have died from COVID-19, and thousands have had the virus. And Dean Angelo, a former president of the police union, died Tuesday from COVID-19.
The information that people must submit to the online form is “very basic” and “not intrusive,” Lightfoot said.
All city workers who are not fully vaccinated must agree to twice-weekly testing through Dec. 31, at which point they are required to be fully vaccinated or they can face discipline. Workers can also apply for exemptions.
The requirement is meant to protect workers and members of the public with whom they interact.
“The health of our city workers directly impacts the health of everyone they interact with,” Lightfoot said. the mandate is about ensuring a safe workplace, “but fundamentally, it’s about saving lives.”
Lightfoot announced the mandate in August, and the Fraternal Order of Police immediately voice opposition to the measure. Other COVID-19 safety measures — like requiring officers to wear masks — have also met resistance in the Police Department.
Officials and health experts have said the vaccines are safe and are the best way to be protected against COVID-19 and help end the pandemic.
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.
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