The Chicago City Council fails to repeal the mayor’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city workers

Vaccine sign
A sign points the way to administrate a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at London Middle School in Wheeling, Ill., Friday, June 11, 2021. The Chicago City Council failed Friday to repeal the city's mandate that all city workers get vaccinated. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press, File Photo
Vaccine sign
A sign points the way to administrate a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at London Middle School in Wheeling, Ill., Friday, June 11, 2021. The Chicago City Council failed Friday to repeal the city's mandate that all city workers get vaccinated. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press, File Photo

The Chicago City Council fails to repeal the mayor’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city workers

A proposal to repeal Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city workers was squashed at a last-minute City Council meeting Friday.

The meeting had been called by some conservative members, who were attempting to strike her order that all workers report their vaccination status, get tested twice weekly if not vaccinated, and get inoculated by the end of the year.

The council voted 30 to 13 against the ordinance, keeping the mayor’s vaccine mandate in place.

Alds. Silvana Tabares, 23rd Ward, and Anthony Napolitano, 41st Ward, wrote the proposed ordinance. They, with 11 other members of the council, called the rare, special meeting to force a vote on their repeal proposal, which would have also required City Council approval for similar mandates in the future.

The ordinance had earlier this week been sent to the council’s Rules Committee — where legislation can languish indefinitely — prompting its proponents to call for the meeting. While not required, nearly all council members showed up Friday, many of them to vote the ordinance down.

“I appreciate the passion that’s being expressed today…,” said Ald. Maria Hadden, 49th Ward. “But we need to put those passions aside and we need to use patience, we need to think long-term.”

“We can’t be so reactive to people, just because they don’t like the messenger of a particular policy,” Hadden said, referring to a standoff between the Fraternal Order of Police, which opposes the mandate, and Lightfoot.

Most city employees have complied with the current order to report their vaccination status — with 32 of 34 city departments having at least 92 percent of employees in compliance. But first responders’ compliance continues to lag.

About 72 percent of the police force and 87 percent of the fire department are in compliance. The policy is also facing a lawsuit from more than 100 Chicago firefighters.

Those who do not comply with the order to report their status or get tested if they’re not vaccinated are gradually being put on no-pay status. About 30 Chicago police officers are currently off the beat as a result, according to the mayor’s office. More than 3,000 of them have still not reported their vaccination status, meaning they’re still at risk of being put on no-pay status.

Aldermen pushing for the mandate’s repeal repeated concerns Friday that the lagging compliance among first responders will lead to a public safety crisis.

“I am fully vaccinated, but that said I believe this mandate has created a public safety blind spot,” said Ald. Matt O’Shea, 19th Ward.

Proponents of the mandate expressed public safety concerns on a different front, saying first responders must be vaccinated to ensure the health of Chicago residents.

“How can we feel safe sending people to respond to emergencies without knowing they can keep others safe against COVID?,” said Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez, 33rd Ward.

Aldermen also debated the role the council should play in negotiations with the unions that represent the employees affected by the policy. Tabares urged aldermen to vote in favor of repealing the mandate as a check on the executive branch.

“Opposing this measure means you are OK with staying in the dark. You are OK with whatever happens. This vote … asks us if we want to roll up our sleeves, or wash our hands of the matter,” she said.

Rodriguez Sanchez, who during her two years in office has fought for more decision-making power among the council, responded to that appeal, saying vaccine policy is not the place for a power struggle.

“I am down to fight for independence from the executive … I think (the) mandate is not the thing we use,” she said.

Other aldermen who voted against the repeal ordinance said they believe the measure is an overstep of the council’s power and would infringe on the bargaining power of unions, many of which negotiated with Lightfoot for months over the details of the mandate.

Mariah Woelfel covers city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.