Chicago Vaccine Mandate Upheld for Most City Employees, Firefighters

(WTTW News)

Most city of Chicago employees — including Chicago’s firefighters — must be vaccinated against COVID-19, an arbitrator ruled Wednesday, handing Mayor Lori Lightfoot a significant victory.

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The decision applies to Chicago employees represented by Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 21, the Service Employees International Union, Local 73, Teamsters Local 700, and all COUPE trade unions, officials said.

A separate arbitration set to take place before Dec. 31 will determine whether Chicago Police officers represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 must be vaccinated against COVID-19. However, the decision indicates that Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate is likely to be upheld for employees of the Police Department as well.

“The city is pleased that a neutral arbitrator selected by both parties upheld the City's right to issue a vaccine mandate to its employees,” according to a statement from Law Department spokesperson Kristen Cabanban.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrated the decision by the arbitrator, who is also set to hear the police union’s case on Dec. 28. 

Lightfoot called on union leaders to drop their challenges of the vaccine mandate, which was announced in August.

“Work with us to save lives,” Lightfoot said. “Let’s work together, leaders of organized labor.”

Employees who fail to get vaccinated and do not receive an exemption for religious or medical reasons will not be paid by the city as a result of the ruling.

The ruling gives those union’s employees until Dec. 31 to get their first shot of one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines, and until Jan. 31 to get the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer BioNtech vaccines.

“While this is not the result the collective group of unions were hoping for, the arbitrator's decision does give them options to resolve future disputes created through the implementation of this policy,” according to a statement sent to employees from the unions. “Through our collective fight we have succeeded in obtaining additional time for workers to obtain the vaccination shots mandated by the city and we will continue to advocate for all of our members as the policy is implemented.”

Approximately 4,100 members of the Chicago Police Department are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have refused to disclose their vaccination status to city officials, according to data provided by the city.

That represents nearly 60% of all the city employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have refused to disclose their vaccination status to city officials, according to city data.

More than 77% of all city employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Although Lightfoot announced in August that all city employees would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 15, she weakened the mandate just before it was scheduled to go into effect by allowing city employees who were not vaccinated to test twice a week until Dec. 31.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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