CHICAGO — A judge in Chicago blocked the city on Monday from enforcing a Dec. 31 vaccine mandate for police officers until the issue can be addressed in arbitration. The ruling was a blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a victory for a police union that has been engaged in an increasingly vitriolic battle with City Hall over the rule.
Judge Raymond W. Mitchell of the Cook County Circuit Court said that as unionized employees, police officers had a right to have their objections to the mandate heard by an arbitrator before the requirement takes effect. If an arbitrator were to rule against the city after the vaccine mandate was being enforced, the judge wrote, there would be little recourse for officers who got vaccinated under duress.
“An award of back pay or reinstatement cannot undo a vaccine,” Judge Mitchell wrote. “Nothing can.”
Across the country, police unions have fought requirements that their members get vaccinated, sometimes leading to fears of mass resignations, as in Los Angeles County, Calif., where the sheriff has warned of a potential exodus.
The opposition to vaccination mandates has come even though nearly 500 American law enforcement officers have died from work-related Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page — far more than have died from any other work-related cause in the last two years. On Monday, thousands of New York City employees, including police officers, were placed on unpaid leave for failing to get vaccinated by the city’s deadline.
In Chicago, Judge Mitchell’s ruling left in place a requirement for officers to report their vaccination status to the city, which the police union has opposed, and to undergo regular testing if not vaccinated.
“The reporting obligation itself is a minimal intrusion particularly considering that police officers are already obligated to provide medical information to their employer,” the judge wrote.
About 71 percent of Chicago Police Department employees had reported their vaccination status to the city by last week, by far the lowest rate of any city department. Around 7,300 police employees said they were vaccinated, while about 1,700 said they were not. More than 3,000 others had not provided their status. John Catanzara, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago, which represents rank-and-file officers, had suggested that his members ignore the order and risk discipline or loss of pay.
Ms. Lightfoot’s office said the mayor would address the ruling later on Monday. Mr. Catanzara did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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