Up to half of Chicago police officers could be put on unpaid leave over vaccine dispute

Up to half of Chicago’s rank-and-file police officers could be placed on unpaid leave starting Friday because of a dispute between their union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot over a city requirement for officers to disclose their vaccine status.

The dispute in Chicago is emblematic of tension across the country between unions and employers as cities and businesses seek to enforce vaccine mandates. At least 228 officers have died of Covid-19 this year compared to 245 last year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Covid is the leading cause of death for officers despite them being among the first groups having access to the vaccine at the end of last year.

At least 120 officers in San Francisco will be off the street after failing to comply with the city’s vaccine mandate, CNN affiliate KGO reported. Eighty of the 120 police officers work in the department’s patrol division, San Francisco Police Officers Association vice president Tracy McCray said.

In a message to officers in Chicago, their union president framed the issue as an employment dispute between the city and the officers.

“I’ve made my status very clear as far as the vaccine, but 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 so to speak on the fly,” said John Catanzara, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) lodge. Earlier this month, the former president of the union died of Covid. He served as president from 2014 until 2017.

Officers in Chicago have a deadline of midnight Thursday to disclose their vaccine status to the city or be placed on unpaid leave. Catanzara said up to 50 percent of the officers could be placed on unpaid leave. Lightfoot’s office didn’t respond Thursday to a request for comment.

She has a news conference planned for the afternoon.

“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% or less for this weekend coming up,” Catanzara said. “That is not because of the FOP, that is 100% 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.”

Catanzara said the FOP would be seeking a temporary restraining order against the city that would stop them from enforcing the mandate, and said the union planned to file an unfair labor practice charge against the city over their failure to bargain with the union over this issue.

It’s not clear if the union has followed through with either of those actions, and Catanzara didn’t respond to a request for comment. Lightfoot, at a press conference Wednesday, said she welcomed a potential lawsuit from the FOP.

“He’s threatening litigation. I say, bring it,” she said.

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