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Chicago mayor takes police union head to court over vaccines

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Chicago Police Vaccines

In this Aug. 10, 2021, file photo, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President John Catanzara speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago. 

CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Friday that she took her fight with the head of the city's police officers union to court, arguing that his call for officers to ignore the order to report their COVID-19 vaccination status was illegal.

The mayor said in a statement that the city's law department filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court for injunctive relief against Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara, whom she accused of "engaging in, supporting and encouraging work stoppage or strike."

A judge Friday evening granted the city's request for a temporary injunction barring Catanzara from making any public comments that encourage FOP members to disobey the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate until the next hearing on the city's lawsuit on Oct. 25.

Judge Cecilia Horan ruled there was potential irreparable harm if Catanzara continued such statements. City attorneys argued they were tantamount to him advocating "sedition" and "anarchy" because he was directing members to disobey an order from their superiors.

Lightfoot asked the court to prohibit the union and its officers from "engaging in any concerted refusal to submit vaccination status information" to the city's portal. She also asked it to order Catanzara to stop urging members to refuse to provide their vaccination status information and to "issue a retraction and disavowal of his ... directives to FOP members that they refuse to submit vaccination status information."

Lightfoot said that by urging union members to not report their COVID-19 by Friday's deadline, Catanzara put the public in danger.

"By doing so, and by predicting that 50% or more officers will violate their oaths and not report for duty, Catanzara is encouraging an unlawful strike and work stoppage which carries the potential to undermine public safety and expose our residents to irreparable harm, particularly during an ongoing pandemic," she wrote in the court filing.

Catanzara has maintained that the officers have a legal right to follow his request to show up for work and be sent home for refusing to fill out the city's COVID-19 portal. "This is not a job action, not a call for a strike — none of that illegal stuff that I'm sure the city is going to make it out to be," he said in a video posted Tuesday.

Then on Friday, the FOP filed its own complaint seeking a temporary restraining order to compel the city to go into arbitration over the mandate.

"They can take us to court all they want," he said in a video posted on the union's website along with a copy of the complaint. "We already are filing paperwork to dismiss that silly motion."

In a video posted Thursday, he told union members that if a superior orders them to submit their vaccination status to the portal, they should refuse because he said it would be an improper and illegal order. He also called on members to try to record any attempts to force them to comply with the city's order on their body cameras.

On Thursday afternoon, Lightfoot and top police officials tried to assuage public concerns that the department would be severely understaffed this weekend, saying officers would not be sent home if they showed up to work Friday and refused to go onto the portal and provide the vaccination status.

Lightfoot said officers who do refuse to the provide the information will be placed on unpaid leave, but that it wouldn't happen until after the weekend because confirming compliance would take a few days. She did make it clear, though, that there would be consequences for refusing to provide the information, which Lightfoot said would constitute an act of insubordination.

First Deputy Eric Carter said that officers were expected to meet Friday's deadline unless they had an approved medical or religious exemption. Those who don't comply could face discipline as severe as being fired. He also said that under the city's rules, those who aren't vaccinated by Friday must get tested twice per week on their own time and at their own expense until the end of the year, when they would be required to be vaccinated.

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