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Mayor goes to court against Chicago police union over its anti-vaccination push, refusal to comply with reporting deadline

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 11/2/2021 Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune
Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers reporters' questions during a news conference Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. © John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS Mayor Lori Lightfoot answers reporters' questions during a news conference Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.

CHICAGO — The city of Chicago has filed an injunctive complaint against Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara over his anti-vaccination push.

“As Chicago’s Mayor, I cannot and will not stand idly by while the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists threatens the health and safety of Chicago’s residents and first responders,” Lightfoot said. “President Catanzara has time and again deliberately misled our police officers by lying about the requirements of the policy and falsely claiming that there will be no repercussions if officers are insubordinate and refuse to follow a City and Department directive or order.”

Her statement also alleges Catanzara was “engaging in, supporting, and encouraging a work stoppage or strike.” State law and the FOP contract both prohibit striking by Chicago police, Lightfoot said.

The Chicago FOP Twitter account responded Friday morning by posting, “President John Catanzara has never engaged in, supported, or encouraged a work stoppage.”

Lightfoot’s legal effort is yet another escalation in the showdown over the mandate with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.

Lightfoot announced in August that all city of Chicago workers must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by Oct. 15, following numerous cities across the U.S. The mandate for more than 30,000 city employees, except for those granted medical or religious exemptions, was immediately opposed by the FOP, the largest union for the city’s police department.

Earlier this week, Catanzara — with whom Lightfoot has regularly sparred — released a video that included threats to sue the city and orders for thousands of rank-and-file members to defy Lightfoot’s vaccination reporting requirement and brace for being sent home without pay.


Video: Chicago police officers opposed to vaccine mandate gather at CPD HQ (ABC 7 Chicago)

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It is unclear how many officers will follow suit. But in a new video Catanzara posted Thursday evening, the union boss again told his members to refuse any instruction to report their vaccine status, calling that an illegal order. He encouraged his rank-and-file to record such directives on their body cameras if able.

Experts told the Tribune Catanzara is walking a fine line legally. Matthew Finkin, a labor law professor at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, said the police union leader’s direction could be tantamount to a strike if it’s seen as a “concerted job action.” That could open the officers to discipline rising to firing.

“They’re rolling the dice,” Finkin said. “There can be severe consequences.”

The FOP also might not have as much leverage as it thinks, Finkin added. It is true the city would have to jump through hoops over a potential mass noncompliance of the mandate, he said, but that could also chip away at the public’s opinion of the police union.

Martin Malin, a law professor emeritus at Chicago-Kent College of Law and Biden appointee to a federal labor panel, said the FOP’s plans are “uncharted territory” when it comes to the definition of a strike. But he cautioned that the old labor adage, “obey now, grieve later,” would be the wisest course of action for the FOP should they wish to avoid punishment for insubordination.

Still, Malin said Catanzara’s not gambling on his legal footing but his political might.

“It’s one thing whether you have the legal right to do something; it’s another thing as to whether you have the power to do it,” Malin said. “How much is real and how much is posturing? And Catanzara and Lightfoot don’t get along at all, so you’ve got to factor that in as well.”

On Thursday evening, Catanzara appeared on FOX’s “The Ingraham Angle” to share his views on the order.

“Our stance from the beginning is that we’re a union there are collective bargaining rights that need to be maintained and honored,” Catanzara said.

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