The Illinois Labor Relations Board overturned the COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed on city of Chicago employees in October 2021 by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, ruling that her administration failed to bargain with employee unions as required by law.
The board ordered the city to rehire employees that were terminated after they refused to get the vaccine and awarded back pay – plus interest – to those employees who were disciplined because they refused to comply with the vaccine mandate.
The ruling came in response to a complaint filed by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, known as AFSCME, and the Coalition of Unionized Public Employees, which represents more than two dozen labor organizations representing city employees.
Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said Lightfoot, who will leave office in less than a month, unilaterally imposed the vaccine mandate. It is unclear how many employees would be rehired if the ruling stands.
“The right call is collaboration,” said Reiter, adding that the complaint was not prompted by the debate over whether employees should – or should not – be vaccinated against COVID-19. “This is the right decision.”
A decision upholding Lightfoot’s action would have weakened labor rights throughout Illinois, Reiter said.
The board agreed with the unions that Lightfoot and her top aides violated their contracts by unilaterally imposing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate without consulting with union leaders as required.
“The ruling affirms that when an employer contemplates significant changes to terms of employment, it has a duty to bargain in good faith with the union. In this case, the city did not do that,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesperson for AFSCME. “By underscoring the employer's obligation to engage with the union, this strong decision will bolster workers' rights going forward.”
However, Cesar Rodriguez, Lightfoot’s press secretary, called the ruling flawed. The city has 30 days to object to the decision before it becomes final.
“The record before the administrative law judge tells a completely different story,” Rodriguez said. “[The] ruling was an erroneous decision that does not follow the law, facts nor importantly the science. We are currently reviewing the ruling and evaluating next steps.”
The decision was also celebrated by Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara in a video posted to the union’s YouTube page. Catanzara did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News. The police union sued to block the vaccine mandate and lost.
“Today’s a great day for labor in the state of Illinois and Chicago,” Catanzara said, calling on Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson not to object to the ruling and “move on and do the right thing on behalf of all union members in this city.”
The debate over whether Chicago Police Department officers were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 roiled Chicago politics for months, but ended quietly after the final deadline for officers to be vaccinated passed April 13 and Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown made no move to discipline the hundreds of officers who refused to get vaccinated against the virus that was the leading cause of death for police officers throughout the nation.
Lightfoot’s administration exempted more than 1,750 Chicago Police Department members from the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and did not seek to terminate a single police officer for failing to comply with the order.
Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]