Thousands of Chicago city employees facing deadline: Get vaccinated or you won't get paid
CHICAGO - The standoff between Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and thousands of unvaccinated Chicago city employees will come to a head on Monday, when the deadline to get at least their first COVID-19 vaccine expires. Unvaccinated employees will be pulled off the payroll.
"This policy, this mandate, to fire thousands of workers, including police officers in the middle of a public safety crisis, is equivalent to bringing gasoline to a house fire," said Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd).
Tabares was one of a dozen aldermen who sent a letter to the mayor, calling the vaccine mandate a "clear and present danger" and demanding a special city council meeting if she doesn't back down.
In a statement Friday, the Mayor said: "All city employees, including police officers, who fail to comply may also face disciplinary action, up to and including termination. These decisions.... are being undertaken in a manner that will not impact public safety or the continuity of everyday government operations."
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The police union says about 2,800 officers remain unvaccinated, and the dozen aldermen complain city workers are being held to a higher standard.
"If the Mayor believes covid rates are safe enough to lift requirements of the general public, it should include city workers too. They are people just like those that work in the private sector," Tabares said.
But public health advocates say COVID remains a serious health threat despite the recent sharp drop in the positivity rate and the best way to prevent another spike is to get everybody vaccinated – including city workers.
"We're seeing a surge in China. We're seeing a surge in Europe. So it is going to happen here. Especially as we reduce a lot of our risk mitigations as masks are coming off. We are going to see a surge," said Dr. Shikha Jain of the University of Illinois Chicago Medical Center.
About half of Chicago's police officers have applied for a religious exemption from the vaccine, which the city has to go through on a case by case basis. So far only about two percent of those requests have been granted.
The departments with the largest numbers of unvaccinated workers are police, fire and streets and sanitation.