Chicago, IL – As much as half of the Chicago police force could be placed on unpaid leave and risk losing their jobs due to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mandatory COVID vaccine directive, according to the police union.
Lightfoot gave the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) 12,000 officers until midnight on Oct. 14 to disclose their vaccine status or face unpaid suspension, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) President John Catanzara told the Associated Press.
In order to avoid being placed on unpaid leave, officers must either provide proof of vaccination or be tested for the virus twice weekly, WFLD reported.
“The information we’re requiring employees to provide is very basic. Not intrusive,” Lightfoot told WFLD on Thursday. “It’s a simple yes or no. Yes, you’re vaccinated. No, you’re not vaccinated. If yes, then you provide your vaccination information. If no, then you’re able to go to a different portal and sign up to say that you will take the weekly testing option. Pretty straightforward.”
Catanzara has been vocal about his belief the city is overstepping with regard to the mandate.
“I do not believe the city has the authority to mandate that to anybody, let alone that information about your medical history and change the terms of employment,” he told the Associated Press.
The union president said the city should brace itself for the potential loss of half the Chicago police force.
“If we suspect the numbers are true and we get a large number of our members who 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 told the Associated Press.
“That is not because of the FOP,” he added. “That is 100 percent because of the mayor’s unwillingness to budge from her hard line. So whatever happens because of the manpower issue, that falls at the mayor’s doorstep.”
Lightfoot said the city will spend the weekend reviewing the status of the officers who haven’t complied with her order before they are placed on unpaid leave, the Associated Press reported.
She said everyone should keep showing up to work until their supervisors tell them they’ve been suspended.
The mayor filed a complaint against the FOP in Cook County Circuit Court on Friday, accusing Catanzara of “engaging in, supporting, and encouraging a work stoppage or strike,” WGN reported.
Lightfoot asked the court for injunctive relief against the FOP.
“As Chicago’s Mayor, I cannot and will not stand idly by while the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists threatens the health and safety of Chicago’s residents and first responders,” Lightfoot said in a statement to WGN.
“President Catanzara has time and again deliberately misled our police officers by lying about the requirements of the policy and falsely claiming that there will be no repercussions if officers are insubordinate and refuse to follow a City and Department directive or order,” she wrote.
Lightfoot accused Catanzara of urging officers to reject the vaccine mandate and reporting requirements.
“By doing so, and by predicting that 50 percent or more officers will violate their oaths and not report for duty, Catanzara is encouraging an unlawful strike and work stoppage which carries the potential to undermine public safety and expose our residents to irreparable harm, particularly during an ongoing pandemic,” she declared, according to WGN.
Lightfoot noted that sworn officers in Illinois are prohibited from engaging in a strike, which is also a condition of the collective bargaining agreement between the FOP and the City of Chicago.
She noted the FOP was also considering taking legal action against the city.
“I say bring it,” Lightfoot scoffed, according to the Chicago Tribune. “We’ll see what happens. You know, John Catanzara says a lot of things, and a lot of it offensive and racist and foolish, but we’ll see what happens. We’ll be prepared for any eventuality.”
Hours later, the FOP filed a lawsuit against the city, Lightfoot, and CPD Superintendent David Brown, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The FOP also took to Twitter Friday morning to rebuke allegations Catanzara was trying to get the rank-and-file to strike.
“President John Catanzara has never engaged in, supported, or encouraged a work stoppage,” the union said. “@LoriLightfoot is the only one who has said she will send our dedicated Officers home without pay if they choose to reject her unlawful orders. Hold the line, CPD, like you always do.”
Lightfoot said during an unrelated press conference that she hopes CPD officers don’t follow in Catanzara’s footsteps, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“I don’t want him to lead these young officers astray and have them destroy their careers like he’s destroyed his,” the mayor said.
She has also accused the FOP of trying to “induce an insurrection,” WLS reported.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said he has offered to send the Illinois National Guard to Chicago to help fill the gap if massive numbers of CPD officers are placed on unpaid leave, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We’ve offered every resource, every public safety resource that’s available to the state to offer to municipalities to the city of Chicago, so if the city calls us, we’ll respond,” Pritzker said.
Lightfoot said she believes in “planning and being ready,” but that she doesn’t want to ask the governor to declare a state of emergency or send in additional resources just yet, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“I don’t want to deal in hypothetical scenarios that have not presented themselves,” the mayor said.