CHICAGO — A judge in Chicago blocked the city on Monday from enforcing a Dec. 31 vaccine mandate for police officers until the issue can be addressed in arbitration. The ruling was a blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a victory for a police union that has been engaged in an increasingly vitriolic battle with City Hall over the rule.
Judge Raymond W. Mitchell of the Cook County Circuit Court said that as unionized employees, police officers had a right to have their objections to the mandate heard by an arbitrator before the requirement takes effect. If an arbitrator were to rule against the city after the vaccine mandate was being enforced, the judge wrote, there would be little recourse for officers who got vaccinated under duress.
“An award of back pay or reinstatement cannot undo a vaccine,” Judge Mitchell wrote. “Nothing can.”
The opposition to vaccination mandates has come even though nearly 500 American law enforcement officers have died from work-related Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page — far more than have died from any other work-related cause in the last two years. On Monday, thousands of New York City employees, including police officers, were placed on unpaid leave for failing to get vaccinated by the city’s deadline.
In Chicago, Judge Mitchell’s ruling left in place a requirement for officers to report their vaccination status to the city, which the police union has opposed, and to undergo regular testing if not vaccinated.