Most Chicago workers reported their vaccination status — but police and fire staff are lagging

Vaccine
The vast majority of Chicago city employees have reported their vaccination status to the city, part of the city's vaccine mandate requirements, but Chicago police and fire departments lag. Melissa Melvin / Associated Press
Vaccine
The vast majority of Chicago city employees have reported their vaccination status to the city, part of the city's vaccine mandate requirements, but Chicago police and fire departments lag. Melissa Melvin / Associated Press

Most Chicago workers reported their vaccination status — but police and fire staff are lagging

The vast majority of city employees in Chicago have already complied with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s mandate that they report their COVID-19 vaccination status, but police and fire department employees are lagging, according to data the city released Monday.

The mandate requires all employees to be fully vaccinated by the end of the year. Ahead of that, employees were required to upload their vaccination status to an online portal maintained by the city by last Friday, Oct. 15.

The city said it’s working with employees who do not upload their vaccination status and giving them the chance to do so at work. Those who refuse to comply are being sent home on no-pay status, Lightfoot said Monday.

Of greatest concern is the department with the lowest compliance numbers — Chicago police. More than 4,000 police personnel have not uploaded their status as of Monday morning. Though she was light on details, Lightfoot said Monday only a small number of officers are being sent home.

“I think what we’re seeing is the number of folks who are actually, after being given the opportunity and a direct order, saying no, is very small, very small,” Lightfoot said at a news conference Monday. “So I am not seeing, at least for this day, a disruption in our ability to keep neighborhoods safe.”

Lightfoot has repeatedly said the city has “contingency” plans if mass numbers of officers do not comply with the city’s order and are therefore sent home, but has not shared details.

Nearly 80% of all employees have taken that first step of uploading their vaccination status online, according to the city data. Overall, more than 21,000 employees, or about 67% of the city’s workforce, report being fully vaccinated — which is in line with the citywide vaccination rate of about 68% of eligible residents being fully vaccinated.

Many departments have had all of their employees upload their vaccination status. Just four out of 35 departments are below 90%: the Department of Family and Support Services, the City Council, and the police and fire departments.

At the police department, 64% of the agency’s more than 12,700 employees have uploaded their vaccination status, according to the city’s data. That means thousands may be following the lead of their union president, John Catanzara, who has urged members not to comply with the order. On Friday, in response to a lawsuit from the city, a judge ordered Catanzara to refrain from telling police not to comply with the mandate, at least until the next scheduled court date on Oct. 25.

Catanzara has stopped making outright calls for defiance since then. However a memo to union members calls orders to follow the policy “invalid,” refers to the city’s stance as “insanity” and encourages officers to “hold the line.”

An internal CPD memo sent Sunday warned department members that they face potential firing for not complying with the vaccination policy.

“A department member…who disobeys a direct order by a supervisor to comply with the City of Chicago’s Vaccination Policy…will become the subject of a disciplinary investigation that could result in a penalty up to and including separation,” the memo reads.

The responses that the city has gotten from police so far indicate that 54% of cops reported being vaccinated.

About 12% of all city employees reported that they are not fully vaccinated. Under the city’s vaccine mandate, those employees will be required to undergo regular testing on their own time and dime until they get vaccinated, an option only available until the end of the year. If they don’t comply, the city will place them on no-pay status.

The city announced Monday that more than 4,000 employees have applied for a medical or religious exemption to the vaccination requirement, which the city’s human resources department is still processing.

Since it was first announced in August, the details of the mayor’s vaccine mandate have largely been vague, as her administration spent months negotiating with union leadership on specifics.

The option to test out of the vaccination requirement until the end of the year was announced a week before the declared Oct. 15 deadline, which was previously the date by which all employees had to be fully vaccinated, not just upload their status.

The relaxation came after union leadership at the umbrella union organization the Chicago Federation of Labor released an initial statement in opposition to any mandate with “punitive” consequences, and urged the mayor to include a testing option for those who do not want the vaccine.

Over the weekend, CFL president Bob Reiter said the organization continues to oppose “a punitive vaccine policy which could result in termination for failure to be vaccinated by December 31st.”

The CFL said it continues to urge the city to adopt an “ongoing vaccination or regular testing protocol which would not expire or ‘sunset.’”

WBEZ’s criminal justice reporter Patrick Smith contributed.

Mariah Woelfel covers city government for WBEZ. Follow @MariahWoelfel.