Chicago workers can pay for tests instead of getting COVID-19 vaccine until the end of the year

Vaccine
In this Dec. 23, 2020, file photo, a nurse administers the first of the two Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast, File / WBEZ
Vaccine
In this Dec. 23, 2020, file photo, a nurse administers the first of the two Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations in Chicago. Charles Rex Arbogast, File / WBEZ

Chicago workers can pay for tests instead of getting COVID-19 vaccine until the end of the year

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot updated the city’s vaccine mandate policy on Friday, saying that city employees who aren’t vaccinated by Oct. 15 can opt to be tested twice a week at their own expense and stay on the job.

But, in a release, Lightfoot said that extension lasts only until Dec. 31, when all employees must be fully vaccinated unless they have a religious or medical exemption.

Anyone who doesn’t report their vaccine status at all to the city by Oct. 15 will be placed on a “non-disciplinary, no pay” status, she said. It’s not clear how long they can remain on that status and maintain their positions.

“The end of this pandemic is within our reach if we continue to get vaccinated and encourage those who haven’t yet received their shots about the safety and efficacy of this lifesaving vaccine,” Lightfoot said in the release.

Lightfoot in August had announced a vaccine mandate for all city workers, but the proposal at that time was short on details. The city has been negotiating with unions since the announcement, as some have pushed back on any requirement that included punitive measures. The Fraternal Order of Police, which represents the city’s largest contingent of officers, has been most vocal in opposition.

But another union on Friday said it remains opposed to her plan.

The president of the union that represents Chicago firefighters told WBEZ that his union is “100% against (vaccine) mandate” and they will be filing a labor grievance next week after previous calls to meet with the mayor were ignored.

“[Lightfoot] still has not negotiated with Local 2,” Jim Tracy, President of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2, told WBEZ. “She has to negotiate with us for demands and has not sat down with us once.”

“We will try and get in front of a judge next week to stop this,” he added. Tracy said the union has sent three letters to the mayor requesting a meeting about the mandate. Two were sent in August, he said, when the topic of a vaccine mandate for city workers was getting pushback from the head of the city’s police union. He said all have been ignored.

Lightfoot nodded to ongoing negotiations with some union in her release, mentioning by name the Fraternal Order of Police and Policemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association to finalize a plan.

She’s also offering a carrot with the no-pay stick — employees who do get vaccinated and report their status as such by Oct. 15 get a personal day to use by June 30. But the police union officers don’t get that bonus day, her office wrote.

Nearly 75% of Chicagoans eligible to get vaccinated have gotten at least one dose, officials said.

Claudia Morell is a WBEZ metro reporter. Follow @claudiamorell.