Judge stays vaccine deadline, sends police union and city back to bargaining tableAndy Grimmon November 1, 2021 at 3:33 pm

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 members and their supporters protested against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside City Hall last week. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A ruling issued Monday stays the Dec. 31 city mandate for police officers to be vaccinated, but leaves current testing and reporting requirements in place.

A Cook County judge on Monday effectively sent city attorneys and the Chicago Police Department’s labor unions back to the bargaining table to resolve a dispute over the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate — but also told the city it can’t require officers to get vaccinated by the end of the year.

The case “presents two competing public interests, but one interest need not be scuttled in favor of another,” Judge Raymond Mitchell wrote in his ruling. “The City’s public health objective and the police union’s desire to pursue their grievances are not wholly irreconcilable.”

Mitchell, who heard arguments in the case last week by attorneys for the Fraternal Order of Police and the city, left intact the requirement that Chicago Police Department officers report their vaccine status and the city’s current policy requiring multiple weekly tests for unvaccinated officers. But Mitchell’s order does stay the Dec. 31 deadline for all officers to be vaccinated, urging the city and union to pursue a labor arbitration.

“The reporting obligation itself is a minimal intrusion,” Mitchell wrote, “particularly considering that police officers already are obligated to provide medical information to their employer.”

Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, was joined in its lawsuit by smaller unions representing CPD sergeants, lieutenants and captains.

The order would not appear to alter the status of officers who have so far refused to divulge their vaccination status, in violation of an Oct. 15 deadline imposed by the department. According to statements made in court, there are 27 officers who have been placed in “non-disciplinary, no-pay status” for refusing to share their vaccination status. At a press conference last week, CPD Supt. David Brown had said 70% of the force had informed the department of their vaccination status using a city data portal, and 80% of those officers reported they had been vaccinated.

Ahead of the Oct. 15 deadline to report , FOP Lodge 7 John Catanzara had urged his members not to report their status, warning that if enough officers landed on no-pay status for refusing, the police force would be hobbled.

And though the judge left the reporting requirement in place, as for the deadline to be vaccinated, Mitchell wrote: “‘Obey now, grieve later’ is not possible. If every union member complied and was vaccinated by December 31 … they would have no grievance to pursue and there would be no remedy an arbitrator could award. An award of back pay or reinstatement cannot undo a vaccine. Nothing can.”

Noting that “judicial intervention in labor disputes is disfavored,” Mitchell wrote, “my intention is to enter to narrowest possible order to preserve the unions’ right to a meaningful arbitration. The balance of the City’s vaccination policy remains fully in effect, including the reporting and testing obligations.”

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara addresses a group of union protesters and their supporters at a rally against COVID-19 vaccine mandates outside City Hall last week.

The FOP had sought a temporary restraining order to stop the city from enforcing its order requiring all city workers to share their vaccination status on an online portal and submit to twice-weekly testing if they are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Joel D’Alba, the police union’s attorney, had argued a hearing on Friday that the city should be ordered to stop enforcing its mandate entirely until the matter is resolved. D’Alba declined to comment on Monday’s ruling.

John Catanzara, president of the Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents rank-and-file officers, could not be reached for comment.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), one of the police unions staunchest City Council allies, said the judge’s decision to stay the Dec. 31 vaccine deadline until the FOP’s grievances can be arbitrated is “a lot more American” than Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mandate from on high.

“This is a terrific — I can’t say ‘victory’ because a lot of people have died from this virus. I just think this is the way things are supposed to be done and should have been done from the beginning. Instead of forcing people to do something, you bring it to a conversation and arbitration,” Napolitano said.

“This has become too much of a control situation. It was more of a beating somebody. More of the mayor against the union. The fundamentals of the contract have been denied. A collective bargaining agreement is just that. You collectively bargain for what you’re going to do to members. That was never done. That’s why this needs to go to arbitration.”

Monday’s ruling applies only to the police unions. But Napolitano said opposition to the vaccine mandate is coming from all city unions, not just those representing first-responders.

“This is employees citywide who are adamantly against putting an unresearched chemical in their body. They should have the opportunity to have it discussed and arbitrated. Now, it’s going to an arbitrator. That’s a win. It’s the way things should be,” the alderman said.

“I’m just hoping that this is kind of the segue to all other unions filing suits and having the same results. That’s what I’m hoping for.”

Napolitano said he would have preferred a more sweeping temporary restraining order that also stayed the requirement that police officers report their vaccine status on the city’s data portal.

But, he said: “You’ve got to take what you can get. It isn’t a bad thing for people to know who’s covered and who’s not covered so they can keep an eye on them for medical reasons. But that’s a big push in this, too. People don’t want to share that information. So, baby steps. Hopefully, that’s the next move in this.”

He added: “A lot of people have fought for many, many, many years — way before COVID — for the right to govern their own body. … And that has been completely stripped from city workers. And when it’s done through an executive order, it takes us out as a City Council and it’s a forced ruling.”

Napolitano has served the city as both a police officer and a firefighter. He represents a far Northwest Side ward that is home to scores of police officers.

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