Time is running out for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in her high stakes game of chicken with the city’s Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara. All city employees — including police officers — were to report their vaccination status by last Friday or face suspension and loss of pay.
Friday has come and gone and no city employees have received orders to go home or have had their pay docked. But Lightfoot claimed that the reason no disciplinary measures occurred was that city workers had yet to catalog lists of those who haven’t complied with the mandate and sent in their vaccination status forms into her office.
Everyone knew that this was a gambit to gain time. Well, time is up. And Lightfoot may find herself — and the city — in a world of hurt. Catanzara claims that 3,000 police officers — a third of the force — have not informed the city or their department of their vaccination status.
“The unofficial number we have is about over 3,200; so about of third of the department,” Catanzara said.
Catanzara has said the mandate is illegal, because the city didn’t negotiate terms with the union.
He said officers who are still refusing to report their vaccination status will be called in by supervisors on Monday, and once again will be asked will be asked to comply with the mandate.
“If they refuse, it sounds like they’re going to go into a no pay status, effective immediately,” Catanzara said.
He said the dispute with the Lightfoot administration is no longer about the vaccine, or personal beliefs, but collective bargaining rights.
“All of those things are a change in your employment policies. You have to negotiate with us what that looks like. The city has refused to do that,” Catanzara said.
Indeed, there have been threatening memos sent to Chicago police, warning them that if they refuse to comply with the mandate, a disciplinary investigation could result in the officer being fired. And if an officer retires, their benefits would be at risk.
The police memo, sent Sunday night by a member of Superintendent David Brown’s office staff, also threatens officers who might choose to retire rather than get the vaccine. It says: “sworn members who retire while under disciplinary investigations may be denied retirement credentials.”
The FOP, in response, sent a document to its members that provides language officers can use should they be asked to go to Internal Affairs and given a direct order to report their vaccination status through the city portal, according to multiple law enforcement sources.
The document that officers must read in response to questions is a doozy.
“Complying with this INVALID order and the violation of MY Bargaining, Constitutional and Civil Rights has furthermore caused me severe anxiety while challenging both my religious and moral beliefs. I am in fact complying with this because I am being forced to do so under complete duress and threats of termination.”
That’s a fairly accurate picture of what’s going on. Lightfoot has been crazy enough — and stupid enough — to make this a collective bargaining issue. It’s no longer about refusing the jab. It’s about running roughshod over union members’ rights.
Lightfoot is already reaching out to suburban police departments asking for help if the worst-case scenario of 3,000 police officers being sidelined comes to pass.
WGN Investigates has learned a coordinator from the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) sent an email to a dozen police officials from Kankakee to Barrington asking them to ask members of their specialized units whether they would be willing to respond to critical situations in Chicago – and how quickly they could get there.
“To be clear, if members of the ILEAS Special Teams programs are requested, it would be for emergency situations, NOT for routine police assistance and the answering of calls for service within the city limits. Illinois State Police and Cook County Sheriff’s Office would be tasked with the patrol needs,” the email read.
Kankakee is near the Indiana border and Barrington is 50 miles from the loop. They better hope that they can corral some officers who work closer to the city.
It’s no longer a question of “cooler heads prevailing.” Lightfoot is apparently taking the challenge from the FOP as a personal affront. How this all shakes out in the coming days is anyone’s guess.
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