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Chicago police unions' vaccine mandate complaint wins hearing

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As vaccine mandates hit their deadlines, the consequences are coming down on the country's police forces."We're still going to give them one last opportunity to do the right thing," said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.Chicago's mayor stripping 19 officers of their police powers for refusing to report their vaccine status. The fight going to court, where a judge ordered the officer's union boss to stop making public statements, like this one:"You are under no obligation to respond or comply," said John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. He had argued  vaccinations were a matter of collective bargaining. But pulling more than a dozen officers is a sore spot in a city already dealing with spiking crime. There's also resistance in Seattle and Los Angeles County.In San Diego, a similar story. Around 90% of San Diego's officers said they think vaccines should be an individual choice. Almost half said they'd rather be fired than comply with a mandate."That's concerning, I mean, the possible impacts if we were to lose officers," said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit.The union is arguing officers could easily get hired elsewhere and is urging the city to provide alternatives, like regular testing. It's trying to prevent cuts to an already strained force."You look at this police department, our ratio of officers to citizens is the second-lowest in this nation, and so obviously that impacts our ability to respond to crime," said Nisleit.In Florida, Karen Weiskopf is pleading with police officers and anyone who will listen to get their shot. Her husband, officer Michael Weiskopf, died in August after battling COVID-19 for close to a month. He was not vaccinated when he got infected. "The pain. There wasn't one day, one hour, one moment that he didn't suffer," Karen Weiskopf said."I said, is there any way I can go to sleep and just die of a broken heart because it'd be a lot easier," she said."Quit paying attention to the politicians that think they know what they're talking about, but they don't," said Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida.Police leaders are encouraging their officers to get the shot. But many union heads are standing their ground on this argument."We don't like being mandated and pushed into anything like that," said John Kazanjian, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.Kazanjian, the head of Florida's largest police union, is vaccinated and encouraging others to do the same, but:  "It's a freedom of choice, absolutely, that's why we live in this great country, the United States," said Kazanjian.Florida has one of the highest counts in the country of officers who have died from COVID-19: 57 and counting.Each one leaving behind a family member to wish things could be different. "It's still surreal," said Weiskopf. "I'm taking it, um, I think hour by hour and day by day. 

The Chicago police unions’ unfair labor practice claims against the city over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate will be heard before a judge, the state’s labor board has determined.

Leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police and other local police unions allege the city failed to bargain in good faith over its vaccine policies, and the Illinois Labor Board said in a newly issued complaint it will hold a hearing on the matter.

The labor board issues a complaint when it finds that an unfair labor practice charge has sufficient merit to warrant a hearing, though it is not a final determination.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks to police union members and supporters during a rally outside of City Hall ahead of a City Council meeting in October.

Police union leaders argued that the city’s vaccine policies involve “wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment and is a mandatory subject of bargaining.” They also argued that Mayor Lori Lightfoot implemented her rules “without first bargaining the impact of the decision to impasse or agreement.”

The city “failed and refused to bargain in good faith,” in violation of the state’s Labor Relations Act, the unions claim.

Lightfoot’s administration has 15 days to respond, and a hearing will be set later for both sides to argue their cases.

Earlier this fall, a judge ordered a delay to the Jan. 1 vaccination requirement set by Lightfoot, but it only applies to unionized Chicago police members. Other legal cases, however, have led to federal and Cook County judges denying motions to alter or pause the vaccination policy. On Thursday, the FOP’s bid to block the vaccination reporting requirement was shot down by a judge, for example.

A Lightfoot spokeswoman said the city has not yet seen the complaint. Local FOP President John Catanzara said in a video posted by the union that the ILRB determination was a victory.

The city has “violated state labor law, period,” Catanzara said.

Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara

Local Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara speaks out against the city's vaccine mandate at a rally outside City Hall in October.

Under Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s directive, all city employees had until Oct. 15 to report their vaccination status but could choose to undergo regular COVID-19 testing, rather than get shots, through the end of the year.

After police unions challenged the vaccine mandate in court, though, a judge suspended the Dec. 31 date for those members to be fully inoculated, saying that needed to go through arbitration. Other unions representing city workers are also now seeking the same, though they have yet to see the same success.

The ILRB decision to hold a hearing stems from an unfair labor practice charge the FOP and other Chicago police unions brought on Oct. 13 against the city. These cases usually lead to dismissal, deferral to arbitration, or a “complaint for hearing,” which was the result of this FOP complaint.

The FOP claims the city “failed to provide information” to the police unions and that the vaccination policy must be bargained. If the final ruling goes the unions’ way, they could seek relief from the city.

Since October, dozens of first responders in Chicago have been placed on no-pay status for failing to report their vaccine status, though the overall rate of compliance with the mandate has climbed over that time. At one point, a judge granted the city’s request for a restraining order against Catanzara to stop him from publicly encouraging union members to defy the reporting mandate. But that expired and the city dropped the lawsuit in recent days.

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