Chicago FOP Lodge 7 President John Catanzara, a Clearing resident, advises his union’s members not to abide by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate. --Screenshot from an FOP video
Leaders push back against vax
Aldermen, FOP chief butt heads with Lightfoot
By Tim Hadac
A week after the Lightfoot Administration announced that all city workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19—or face disciplinary measures—some employees pushed back.
One of the most public was 23rd Ward Ald. Silvana Tabares, who signed a letter of concern to the mayor–with five of her colleagues. In the letter, the aldermen urge Lightfoot to reconsider her order and claim the mandate is an “infringement on the personal freedoms” of city employees.
The only other Southwest Side alderman to sign the letter was 18th Ward Ald. Derrick Curtis.
When asked to expand upon her concerns, Tabares said, “I support residents having convenient access to vaccinations, which is why I fought to get a number of vaccine events here on the Southwest Side. When the mayor announced that she was going to force workers to be vaccinated without first consulting with those who represent city workers, many residents personally voiced their frustrations to me about the mayor’s tactics. Myself and my family are vaccinated because we chose to be. I signed on to the letter because I felt the mayor’s approach was divisive and counter-productive to encourage more people to be vaccinated.”
Penning a separate letter was 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn, along with 19th Ward Ald. Matthew O’Shea.
They asked the mayor to “pause” the vaccine mandate in the interest not of conscience and personal freedom, but of public safety.
“With the potential for many Chicago Police Department officers to not be working as of Oct. 15 because of the vaccination mandate for city workers, we are extremely concerned that our communities will be put in serious danger.
“We speak for both of our wards, which represent over 2,200 CPD police officers, that we cannot afford to lose any officers from our communities,” Quinn and O’Shea continued. “The 8th and 22nd Districts are already strained for officers and resources, and our residents should not have to experience even longer call responses. We want to be clear that this isn’t about mandates. For us, this is about public safety. We are both fully vaccinated. We work closely with healthcare providers in our communities to ensure residents can easily be vaccinated and we will continue that effort.”
Employees who failed to report their vaccination status by Oct. 15 were placed in what the mayor called “a non-disciplinary, no pay status.” If employees were fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, they will receive one personal day to use before June 30, 2022. Represented sworn employees of the Chicago Police Department will not receive the additional personal day.
City workers who were not fully vaccinated by Oct. 15, including employees who have received an approved medical or religious exemption, must undergo regular COVID-19 testing on a twice weekly basis, with tests separated by 3-4 days, Lightfoot said in a statement last week.
Employees are responsible for obtaining those tests on their own time and at their own expense and reporting those results to the City. This testing option will only be available through Dec. 31. In the new year, employees must be fully vaccinated unless they have received an approved medical or religious exemption.
“The end of this pandemic is within our reach if we continue to get vaccinated and encourage those who haven’t yet received their shots about the safety and efficacy of this lifesaving vaccine,” Lightfoot said. “It is crucial to the health and safety of every resident that we continue our equitable, targeted efforts to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19 across our city and especially within our City departments and agencies. That is why we are providing a testing option for employees until December 31 while we continue to do everything at our disposal to educate employees with true scientific data and research as well as continue our conversations with our unions and labor partners.”
While the Chicago Police Department is required to report vaccination status or be a part of the regular bi-weekly testing., Lightfoot said her administration “continues to bargain in good faith with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Policemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association to reach a fair and workable policy that will keep our first responders safe.”
Chicago FOP Lodge 7 President John Catanzara did not see it that way.
“I am telling every [FOP] member: Do not, do not fill out the [online vaccination status form] right now,” Catanzara said earlier this month, encouraging members to wait until the last minute to do so.
He chided Lightfoot for what he said was a failure to explain regulations clearly and in writing.
Catanzara also insisted FOP members have more than a religious exemption to avoid being vaccinated.
He said Lightfoot “refuses to acknowledge the conscientious objection exemption from [state law]. Regrettably, they seem to think that’s the same as a religious exemption…[but] it is not about religion. It is a conscientious, firmly-held belief—whatever that might be—about that vaccine.
“You should be entitled to that exemption too, and we’re not going to let [the Lightfoot Administration] get away with ignoring that, like it just doesn’t exist,” Catanzara told members, adding the FOP would go along with mandatory COVID-19 testing for its members, but testing would have to be no more than once a week, it would have to be a saliva test (rather than a deep nasal swab), and tests would have be conducted on the clock and at the city’s expense.
Catanzara also threatened to use FOP resources to sue the city over the matter. Lightfoot responded by saying, “Bring it.”
Close to 75 percent of Chicagoans who are currently eligible for the vaccine (about 1.7 million people) have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccinations are widely available at pharmacies, health care offices and through special events across the city at nodirect cost to the public. No insurance or government ID is required to receive a vaccination. To learn more, visit Chicago.gov/COVIDvax or call (312) 746-4835.
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