Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s high-stakes standoff with the police union is now in the hands of a court.
It’ll be up to a judge to determine whether Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara is, as the mayor claims, “trying to foment an illegal work stoppage or strike” that endangers Chicago by directing his members to not comply with a midnight Friday mandate to report their vaccine status on the city’s data portal.
Lightfoot needs to prove that case if she wants a judge to grant her request for injunctive relief.
“This union never called for a strike or a job action. We told our officers to continue to go to work. It was the city that was threatening to lock out our officers for not complying with an improper directive,” Catanzara said Friday in a video posted to the union’s Facebook page.
Catanzara said City Hall acknowledged from the outset that the vaccine mandate was a “subject of mandatory bargaining. … That is not in dispute, yet they have not done that.”
“So any sergeant, lieutenant, captain or above who gives you an order to go in that portal is not valid. You are able to refuse that order. They cannot order you to violate your collective bargaining rights. … They can take us to court all they want. We already are filing paperwork to dismiss that silly motion.”
Lightfoot stood her ground. She noted that state law and the police contract prohibit Chicago police officers from striking and accused Catanzara of defying both in an attempt to “induce an insurrection.”
“It is an illegal strike. He is encouraging officers to be insubordinate, not to follow directives and he is predicting a 50% drop-off in police forces,” the mayor said.
“This notion that individual officers get to be insubordinate as they pick and choose? We’re not having that. And if that’s the police department they want to be in, they should walk to another police department because that is not gonna happen in the city of Chicago.”
The complaint, filed Thursday evening, asks a judge to order Catanzara “to issue a retraction and disavowal of his October 12 and October 13, 2021 directives to FOP members that they refuse to submit vaccination status information … refuse to submit COVID test results if unvaccinated or otherwise refuse to comply with the city’s vaccination policy.”
Catanzara’s stance, the complaint says, leaves Lightfoot with a “Hobson’s choice” to exempt the FOP membership, jeopardizing public health, “or be left without a police force sufficient to keep the peace and combat the pandemic of violent crime plaguing the city.”
Lightfoot and Catanzara have gone toe-to-toe about all matters pertaining to public safety, putting aside their differences only once: to negotiate a new police contract that guarantees rank-and-file officers a 20% pay raise over eight years, more than half of it retroactive.
Catanzara is one of the most disciplined officers the Chicago Police Department has ever had.
On Friday, Lightfoot attempted to use that checkered past to her advantage as she urged officers to defy their fiery union president.
“John Catanzara has destroyed his police career. Destroyed it. He’s not fit, and he’s never gonna go back to the department in any kind of active position. I don’t want him to lead these young officers astray and have them destroy their careers like he’s destroyed his,” she said
“If you ignore a directive of your supervisor or worse, a direct order that’s lawfully given, you’re gonna destroy your career. That is gonna follow you forever. Over what? Going to a website? Clicking yes or no? And if no, saying that you’re gonna sign up for testing? Really? That’s worth it? I don’t think it is. And I don’t think people are gonna follow him over that cliff.”
With 1,000 police vacancies already, Catanzara noted that 4,300 officers — roughly 38% of the force — have “20 years of service or more” and, therefore, “can lock in a pension and walk away today.”
“If this mayor doesn’t stop vilifying the police and start focusing on public safety, you are going to have a rash number of retirements in the very immediate future here because officers just aren’t going to take it anymore. That is going to risk everybody’s safety, and that’s not going to be our fault,” he said.
Catanzara closed by acknowledging this week’s death of his predecessor Dean Angelo Sr. from complications from COVID-19.
“Our membership and myself are not insensitive to the serious health risks that COVID presents. It was never a matter of COVID is a hoax or anything along them lines,” he said.
“It’s about personal choice. Each of us should be able to make a personal choice for our health concerns and not have the government dictate what that looks like to them. That is the basis for all of this.”
The ACLU of Illinois weighed in on the mayor’s side, calling Catanzara’s defiant directive a “breach of the public trust” that could have a disparate impact on communities of color.
“Police officers routinely initiate contact, including close contact, with residents across the City. These contacts are especially prevalent in Black and Brown neighborhoods across Chicago that are over-policed and where we see the most frequent use of traffic stops and stop and frisks,” the ACLU statement said.
“That officers would eschew vaccinations and further the risk of spread of a deadly disease that already has taken the lives of thousands of Chicagoans, particularly Black and Brown people, furthers the mistrust between the police and the community they are supposed to serve.”
Contributing: Mitch Dudek