by Megan Hickey, Samah Assad, Mugo Odigwe, and Todd Feurer
CHICAGO (CBS) — The head of the union representing rank-and-file Chicago police officers urged aldermen on Monday to repeal Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine requirement for all city workers, warning those who refuse to challenge the mayor’s mandate “we are coming for every one of your damn seats” in the next election.
“This tyrant at the top needs to stop what she’s doing,” Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara told aldermen during Monday’s City Council meeting, as dozens of police officers and other city workers rallied outside City Hall, calling on aldermen to support a proposed ordinance that would repeal Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate, and require City Council approval of any future policies or mandates that could lead to disciplinary action or no-pay status for city workers who don’t comply.
Sixteen aldermen have signed on as sponsors of that ordinance, but the proposal was shuttled to the council’s Rules Committee, where measures opposed by the mayor are typically sent to languish without a vote.
That didn’t stop some city workers, including police officers and firefighters, from gathering outside City Hall to show their disapproval of the vaccine mandate.
The city’s vaccine mandate required all city workers to report their vaccination status by Oct. 15, or face the prospect of being placed on no-pay status. Unvaccinated city workers may opt to undergo twice weekly testing for COVID-19 through the end of the year, but come 2022, all city workers must be fully vaccinated.
Chicago Police confirmed Monday that 23 officers are on no pay status due to not putting their vaccine info in the portal.
The Chicago FOP organized Monday’s rally against the vaccine mandate, and after addressing the crowd at the rally, Catanzara went into the City Council chamber to take their message directly to aldermen during the meeting’s public comment period.
He told aldermen the proposal to repeal the vaccine mandate “puts control back in your hands.”
“In spirit, it is right that you have control of what city policies get put forth to the city workforce. You can hate me, you can hate my message, but this is about the entire city workforce, not the Chicago Police Department, not the FOP, and it’s not even about me,” he said.
Catanzara also warned aldermen who don’t back the union’s effort to do away with the vaccine mandate that they will face a challenger in the next city election in 2023.
“We are coming for every one of your damn seats, because this is not the way a government is supposed to run. It is not a queen on that throne. It is a mayor. The mayor presents ideas. You help craft those ideas and become reality in ordinance,” she said. “This tyrant at the top needs to stop what she’s doing.”
Lightfoot did not respond to Catanzara during the meeting, and did not hold her typical post-meeting press conference, but last week she accused Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), who introduced the proposal to repeal the vaccine mandate, of carrying the water for a guy who’s “demonstrated over and over again he’s racist, he’s a misogynist, he’s xenophobic, he hates immigrants and refugees,” in reference to Catanzara’s repeated derogatory posts on social media.
The mayor said the proposal to repeal the vaccine mandate “will never see the light of day.”
“It’s foolishness, and I’m going to do everything I can to stop it,” Lightfoot said on Friday.
According to data released by the city on Monday, 85% of all city employees have reported their vaccination status, and 83% of those employees have confirmed they are fully vaccinated. However, less than 71% of officers and civilian employees at the Chicago Police Department have reported their vaccination status, and only 86% of the Chicago Fire Department has done so. Of those who have met the vaccine reporting requirement, 81% of the employees at CPD have said they are fully vaccinated, and 79% of CFD employees have confirmed they’re fully vaccinated.
A total of 3,735 CPD employees and 669 CFD employees have yet to report their vaccination status, putting them at risk of being placed on no-pay status and being brought up on disciplinary charges.
During the rally outside City Hall on Monday, Chicago Fire Department Capt. Scott Troogstad said he was recently placed on unpaid leave after refusing to report his vaccination status on the city’s online portal.
“We just want an equal playing field, that’s all. We want to do what we’ve done for the last two years: serve the public that we’re supposed to serve, that we’ve taken an oath to serve. We want to do that to the best of our ability, and there’s only one thing preventing us from doing that, and that’s up there,” he said, pointing to City Hall. “And if everyone else is cool with that, I guess I got no say in the matter, but I’m not cool with it.”
Troogstad is one of dozens of firefighters and Water Department workers who have filed a federal lawsuit against the city, seeking to block the vaccine mandate.
The FOP has filed its own lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, and the city has filed a lawsuit against the FOP over the union’s efforts to encourage officers to defy the mandate.
A hearing was held late Monday on the city’s bid to extend a restraining order barring Catanzara from making public comments that discourage officers from reporting their vaccine status. A judge said she will release a written statement with her decision about extending the order forbidding the FOP from directing members to violate the vaccination policy.
An FOP attorney argued there was no threat of harm to the city, and continued to assert that “these matters are protected under the First Amendment.”
The FOP attorney also repeatedly denied the language from Catanzara and others encouraged a strike. He also said the posts urging members to defy the vaccination policy did not discourage people from working, and claimed the city is trying to “thwart” the lodge from telling members about the issues with the vaccination policy.
An attorney the city denied this, saying they’re not seeking an order to prevent officers or FOP from sharing their opinion about the policy, but rather to prevent them from encouraging a strike.
Meanwhile, a motion by the FOP to dismiss the city’s suit was denied Monday, but the judge allowed the FOP to submit the motion again within seven days. The judge said the motion can only be based on a specific section of the law that applies to this case.