CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police is standing firm in a stare-down with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, over the vaccine mandate for city workers, which goes into effect on Friday.
CBS 2's Jermont Terry reports officers gathered at the FOP lodge Wednesday night to determine their next steps as a Friday deadline approaches for all city workers to notify the city of their vaccination status.
FOP members want the deadline pushed back until Jan. 1, while the two sides continue negotiations on the city's vaccination policy, but Lightfoot refuses to budge, despite a warning from the police union's president that half of the officers in CPD are willing to defy the city's deadline, and go on "no pay" status.
So many officers showed up for Wednesday's emergency FOP meeting that they couldn't all fit inside the lodge, and some had to gather on an overflow patio outside.
FOP members are looking for guidance on how they should move forward if they refuse to get vaccinated.
The Lightfoot administration is giving all city workers until Friday to notify City Hall of their vaccination status, or else go on "non-disciplinary no-pay" status. Any city worker who is not fully vaccinated by Friday has the option of getting tested for COVID-19 twice a week, at their own expense and on their own time, but that option runs out at the end of the year.
The mayor's office has said all city workers must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 31.
"Hell no is the best I can put it, and it was across the board," Chicago FOP President John Catanzara said of the response from the police union.
Catanzara has told officers to refuse to report their vaccination status, but to show up to work on Friday, and let their superiors make the decision to send them home.
"We are going to have our members report to work, and let the Department tell them 'go home,'" Catanzara said.
He said, based on a "rough estimate," half of the city's officers are prepared to stay home on "no pay" status.
"The belief is we're going to have a very, very large percentage of officers that are going to be willing to go into a no-pay status, because they're not going to enter their information into the portal," Catanzara told CBS 2's Tara Molina before Wednesday's union meeting.
"The ball is really in the city's court at this point to come to the bargaining table and push the deadline back, or deal with a city that is going to have, I guarantee you, at least half the department staying home come Saturday morning," Catanzara said after the meeting.
With city not budging on its deadline, and the union standing its ground, what's the next move? The FOP wants all members to file for an exemption from the vaccine requirement.
However, they would then be required to pay out-of-pocket to get tested for COVID twice a week.
"This is the city's doing. The city is locking us out from going to work, come Saturday morning. That is their decision to make at this point, not ours," Catanzara said.
Yet CBS 2 legal analyst Irv Miller is quick to point out it's highly unlikely the courts will step in before the Friday deadline, adding it comes down to what each officer chooses to do.
"I think eventually the courts have to get involved. You have a dispute between two parties; frankly, a legitimate dispute between two parties. That's what courts are there for, to resolve those issues," Miller said.
The union also filed unfair labor practice paperwork with the Illinois Labor Relations Board on Wednesday, also filing a demand for expedited arbitration with the city. Catanzara said they have a class-action grievance prepared, too.
But Chicago Police aren't the only city workers facing the Friday deadline.
What makes Chicago Police different than all city employees facing this same mandate?
"I guess, for one, we work a profession that nobody wants at this point. They can't get anyone to take this job. The other unions in this city have seemed to literally just lay down and decided, 'Let them [the FOP] take the lead. If they win, we all win. Let them have the fight,'" Catanzara said.
Asked about the FOP's prediction that CPD could see a 50% reduction in manpower over the vaccine mandate, Mayor Lori Lightfoot stood her ground, emphasizing the importance of vaccination for officers.
"Really, what we are focusing on is to maximize the opportunity to create a very safe workplace. Police officers, firefighters, others on the front line every day who interact with the public, it makes sense for them to get vaccinated," Lightfoot said.
The mayor also noted the city already has lost several police officers who have died of COVID, and she doesn't want to see any more die because they refuse to get vaccinated.
As for the possibility thousands won't show up for work when the mandate starts, she said the city is prepared.
"We'll see what happens. John Catanzara says a lot of things – a lot of it offensive, and racist, and foolish – but we will see what happens," she said. "We'll be prepared for any eventuality, but our message is to the members: protect yourself, protect your family, protect your partner, protect members of the public, get yourself vaccinated. We do not want to lose any more officers from COVID-19 deaths, when a life-saving vaccine is readily available."
If half of the city's police force does go on "no pay" status over the vaccine mandate, there are rumbles vaccinated officers will have their days canceled, and be required to work 12 days straight to fill the void.
Police officers already are required to get other vaccinations to work, but Catanzara said the COVID vaccine mandate is different, because those other requirements came with applying for and getting a job, and this is a change to their conditions of employment.
"They're changing conditions of employment. We don't feel that's legitimate," Catanzara said. "Lift the mandate, lift the deadline, and go back to protecting the city."
"If you want to send officers home, and risk the safety and security of the citizens of this city, then so be it. It's not us, it's you. Our officers want to work," Catanzara said.
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