More than 20 Chicago labor unions have filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, seeking the same deadline suspension that a judge granted Chicago police officers.
The 23 plaintiffs include Teamsters Local 700, Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 130 and Service Employees International Union Local 1, according to a copy of the legal challenge. They are seeking an injunction to force arbitration over Lightfoot’s vaccination policy — and pause the Dec. 31 deadline for city workers to get fully vaccinated until the matter is resolved — because of what they describe as a violation of their collective bargaining rights.
A spokeswoman with the city’s law department declined to comment Tuesday, saying the city has not yet been served. George Luscombe, the plaintiffs’ attorney, declined to comment.
The petition cites a Nov. 1 decision by Judge Raymond Mitchell in the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police’s lawsuit against the city, who ruled that no members of the four Chicago police unions are subject to the Dec. 31 deadline until the matter goes through arbitration.
The complaint filed Friday by the 23 unions says Mitchell’s ruling “addressed the identical question of irreparable harm” that the vaccination mandate would inflict on the bargaining units, which have filed labor grievances against the city over the policy. It argues that a suspension of the Dec. 31 deadline is necessary or else it will be too late to “undo the harm” caused by obeying the requirement to get vaccinated.
“The unilateral changes made by the Defendants have eroded the morale of employees in the Plaintiff Union bargaining units,” the petition says. “The City’s unilateral action has diminished support for the Plaintiff Unions as the exclusive bargaining representatives for the employees in their respective bargaining units.”
Lightfoot’s August directive included a requirement for all city employees to report their vaccination status by Oct. 15 — which thousands, mostly first responders, did not do — as well as a rule that workers be fully inoculated by Dec. 31. Those who are unvaccinated were given the option to undergo regular COVID-19 testing for the rest of the year.
The new legal challenge from the 23 unions signals that more labor groups are joining in opposition to
the vaccine deadline. But this group of unions has been less brazen than FOP Lodge 7, whose president John Catanzara has repeatedly instructed his members to disobey the reporting their vaccination status and has threatened that the police force will be depleted as a result.
The city has sued the FOP for Catanzara’s actions and placed dozens of first responders on no-pay status for defying the order. And a group of about 130 firefighters and other city workers also sued in federal court over the vaccination policy; a judge refused their emergency request to halt the mandate last month.
But despite the flurry of lawsuits, more and more employees are complying, according to city data. As of Monday, the response rate on reporting vaccination statuses was close to 90%, with the police department at 78% and the fire department at 93%.
Out of those who complied, however, the share who were vaccinated was lower: 72%.
Tribune’s Gregory Pratt contributed.
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