CHICAGO – A Chicago judge on Monday prevented the city from enforcing a December 31 vaccination mandate for police officers until the issue can be addressed in arbitration. The ruling was a blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a victory for a police union that has been embroiled in an increasingly scathing battle with the City Council over the rule.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Raymond W. Mitchell said that as unionized employees, police officers have the right to have their objections to the mandate heard by an arbitrator before the requirement takes effect. If an arbitrator ruled against the city after the vaccine mandate was enforced, the judge wrote, there would be little recourse for officers who were vaccinated under duress.
“Granting a back pay or reinstatement cannot undo a vaccine,” Judge Mitchell wrote. “Nothing can.”
Across the country, police unions have fought against requirements that their members be vaccinated, sometimes prompting fears of mass resignations, as in Los Angeles County, California, where the sheriff has warned of a possible exodus.
Opposition to vaccination mandates has come despite nearly 500 U.S. law enforcement officers having died from work-related Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. according to the Officer Down Memorial Page –many more than have died from any other work-related cause in the past two years. On Monday, thousands of New York City employeesPolice officers included were put on leave without pay for not having been vaccinated before the city deadline.
In Chicago, Judge Mitchell’s ruling put into effect the requirement that officers inform the city of their vaccination status, which the police union has opposed, and that they undergo periodic testing if they are not vaccinated.
“The reporting obligation itself is minimal intrusion, especially considering that police officers are already required to provide medical information to their employer,” the judge wrote.
About 71 percent of Chicago Police Department employees had informed the city of their vaccination status last week, by far the lowest rate of any city department. About 7,300 police employees said they were vaccinated, while about 1,700 said they were not. More than 3,000 others had not provided their status. John Catanzara, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, which represents rank-and-file officers, had suggested that its members ignore the order and risk discipline or loss of pay.
Ms. Lightfoot’s office said the mayor would address the ruling later Monday. Catanzara did not immediately respond to a request for comment.