Judge's Ruling Puts Vaccination Deadline For Chicago Police On Hold; Reporting Requirement Stays In Place
By Todd Feurer and Tara Molina
CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Cook County judge has granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city of Chicago from firing or otherwise disciplining police officers who don't get vaccinated by the Dec. 31 deadline, but leaving intact the rest of Mayor Lori Lightfoot's vaccine policies for city workers.
The restraining order issued by Cook County Judge Raymond Mitchell on Monday means the city can't force police officers to comply with the Dec. 31 deadline to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 until the grievances that members of the city's police unions file against the city are heard through arbitration.
"The absence of meaningful arbitration is not just an injury to members, it is also an injury to the union itself. It undermines the unions' collective bargaining power and risks diminishing the union in the eyes of its members," Mitchell wrote.
While officers can't be forced to be vaccinated under the judge's ruling, they would still have to undergo twice-weekly testing for COVID-19.
The judge ruled that, if union members were forced to be vaccinated before they can have their grievance hurt, and the arbitration process determines the vaccine mandate is a violation of their collective bargaining rights, there's nothing that can be done to undo their vaccinations - even if they are granted back pay for time they are forced into no pay status.
However, Mitchell declined to issue a more sweeping restraining order that would have scuttled the city's requirement for officers to report their vaccination status.
Mitchell noted that if an arbitration process determines the vaccine reporting requirement is a violation of the union's collective bargaining agreement, the city can be ordered to purge the information officers provided from its database.
"The reporting obligation itself is a minimal intrusion, particularly considering that police officers already are obligated to provide medical information to their employer," Mitchell wrote.
CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller called the decision Monday a partial win for both sides.
"The city gets to keep their mandate about reporting whether you've been vaccinated, and the (Fraternal Order of Police) got rid of the December 31 order - which could have resulted in a lot of terminations," Miller said.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot downplayed the temporary restraining order barring the city from disciplining officers who don't get vaccinated by the Dec. 31 deadline, noting Mitchell left the mandate itself in place. She also pointed out a federal judge on Friday denied a separate request by a group of firefighters and other city workers to block the city's vaccine mandate for all city workers.
"If you look at what's happening in court cases across the country, whether it's firemen, police, or others that are challenging these mandates, I'm not aware of a single instance in which a mandate put in place has been invalidated," she said.
The deadline for all city workers to report their vaccination status was Oct. 15.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said 73% of the department's officers and civilian staff have reported their vaccination status as of Monday morning, and more than 80% of those people have confirmed they are fully vaccinated.
According to the latest data from the city, a total of 3,435 officers and civilian employees at CPD have yet to report their vaccination status as of Monday, or 300 fewer than had yet to report their vaccination status one week earlier.
However, only 35 officers were on no-pay status as of Monday for failing to comply with the vaccine reporting requirement, as the city has been slow to send officers home without pay for defying the reporting requirement.
Still, Miller said those 35 officers do not really have much of a defense at this point.
"Now that there's a stamp of approval on the mayor's order - the mandate to report - there's not much argument left," he told CBS 2's Tara Molina.
Brown reiterated that vaccination is an issue of safety.
"We continue to encourage our department members to get the COVID-19 vaccine. This is about officer safety, as we've said repeatedly. And it's about protecting our families, and the people we serve. We have lost far too many people to COVID-19," Brown said. "The best way to protect ourselves and to protect each other is to get vaccinated."
With the vaccination deadline still two months away, Mitchell's ruling essentially sends the Lightfoot administration and the city's police unions back to the bargaining table to attempt to resolve the longstanding dispute over the city's vaccine policy.
Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday emphasized the importance of negotiations as now ordered by the judge.
"The judge is actually just affirming what we already knew at the state level and are doing," Pritzker said.
Pritzker spoke out about the decision at an unrelated news conference. Soon afterward, Mayor Lightfoot made her own comment at another city event – accusing the FOP of being unwilling to negotiate.
"With due respect to the judge, I think the record tells a different story," the mayor said. "Get serious, FOP. Get to the table."
Lightfoot declined to predict whether the two sides could settle their differences by the vaccination deadline, but said the city would continue to urge all employees to get vaccinated.
"What I know is we cannot stop. We absolutely cannot stop. This is about saving people's lives, and all those workers that were out there on the front lines through the pandemic when there was not vaccine, we have a responsibility to make sure that those people, as well as the rest of our workforce is safe," she said.
As for how this could affect other city workers beyond the Police Department, Miller said the ruling does not have any implication for other unions. It comes just days after a federal judge denied request by a group of firefighters and city Water Management Department workers to block the vaccine mandate entirely.
Mitchell's ruling also comes comes three days after the City Council voted down a bid by a group of aldermen to repeal Lightfoot's vaccine mandate.
Attorneys for the city's police unions had argued the issues of reporting vaccination status and even getting a vaccine weren't properly negotiated per labor law – and should be.
But city attorneys have argued the matter will eventually go to arbitration – reiterating their belief that the mayor is within her power to issue such mandates, and even blaming the union for taking a month to respond to an August negotiation request.
CBS 2's Molina reached out to the Chicago FOP several times with specific requests for President John Catanzara. Late Monday, there was no response - just posts and videos shared to social media in which the union said it is pleased with the judge's ruling, but there is still work to be done.
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