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Chicago Mandates City Vaccinations for Workers and Volunteers

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a vaccination mandate that affects all city workers and volunteers. The deadline for all personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is Oct. 15, 2021. The mandate announcement, made on August 25, quickly received pushback from union leaders.

In a press release, Lightfoot explains why she is insisting on vaccinations. First, she talks about COVID-19 cases are on the rise and says, “we must take every step necessary and at our disposal to keep everyone in our city safe and healthy.” Then, the mayor added that the vaccines have proven to be effective in doing that and possibly recover from the pandemic.

She added the city is joining the military and other cities around the country that have decided “to protect the people who are keeping our cities and county moving.”

The vaccination policy applies to all city workers and volunteers, although employees can apply for medical, religious exemptions. Employees can submit their exemption requests to the city’s Department of Human Resources. Each application will be reviewed individually.

Mayor Lightfoot’s office’s news release also noted that city employees are required to submit their proof of vaccination using a secure, online portal. However, as the Chicago Sun-Times points out, the mayor does not outline the consequences for noncompliance in the August 25 press release.

Unions Opposing Chicago City Workers Vaccination Mandate

vaccinationEach of the four police unions strenuously opposes Lightfoot’s vaccine mandate. Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara pointed out the naysayers “ain’t just our guys. It’s the sergeants, lieutenants, and captains.” He continued it was not only his voice spouting opposition to the city’s vaccination requirement.

As far as the union membership’s opinion goes, Catanzara contends the vast majority will not comply. And why should they? He explains:

You’re not gonna pay me. You’re gonna make me stay home. But you’re gonna have thousands of coppers willing to stay home, not getting paid to not get a vaccine, and then, what are you gonna do for manpower on the streets?

While Catanzara’s expletive-filled tirade continued, he clearly indicated that the police do not want to be told what to do, and — if he is actually their voice — they question the vaccination’s overall safety.

Whereas, Bob Reiter the Chicago Federation of Labor president, acknowledges vaccinations will help to protect workers and residents. However, this union’s pushback is about the negative impact a “punitive” mandate will have on the path to increasing the number of vaccinations given.

Reiter is hopeful the preliminary discussion about the vaccination policy includes testing alternatives as health agencies continue to build trust in the COVID-19 vaccines and the benefits of voluntarily choosing to be vaccinated.

Chicago Public Schools Vaccination Mandate

CPS will also require everyone employed by the Board of Education to be fully vaccinated by October 15 unless they qualify for medical or religious exemptions. This includes school-based teachers and staff, central office, regular vendors, and network employees. In addition, until the cutoff date, unvaccinated staff members must take a COVID-19 test at least once a week, according to a district-wide announcement on August 13.

Any employee who is not fully vaccinated by October 15 will be ineligible to work for the district until they submit vaccination proof or exemption documentation. With just over two months to go, 68 percent of district employees report being fully vaccinated. On the other hand, the vaccination rate for teachers is higher — 82 percent.

Vaccination Mandate Legality and Exemptions

Legally, vaccinations cannot be forced if someone has a religious objection or a medical condition that contraindicates vaccination or the vaccine’s ingredients. However, even though faith-based exemptions vary from state to state, there is one common denominator; generally, fear and feelings do not apply.

For example, in Fallon (employee) v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center (employer), the justices of the Third Circuit for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania court denied Fallon’s assertion that he was wrongfully terminated for refusing a flu vaccine after he mounted a religious exemption defense. However, the justices found in favor of because the medical center determined Fallon’s request was invalid as his concerns about the vaccine’s “health effects” were medical in nature, not religious.

Chicago’s Current COVID-19 Crisis Updates

vaccinationLike much of the nation, Lightfoot’s mandate comes as Chicago is in the middle of another COVID-19 wave of the highly contagious Delta variant. Health officials implore people to get vaccinated so they can protect themselves and their neighbors. The ultimate goal is to end the pandemic that has controlled American lives for nearly two years.

Many believe vaccination hesitancy will decrease with the FDA awarding Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine full authorization a few days earlier. Hopefully, the number of unvaccinated individuals will drop, driving the percentages upward. Currently, city data reveals more than 1.47 million Chicagoans are fully vaccinated — 54.9 percent of all residents. At least 60 percent have received at least one shot.

A person is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the final COVID-19 vaccination dose.

Vaccines are free to everyone 12 and older regardless of insurance or immigration status. In addition, many local social service agencies will help with transportation if needed.

CDC and local health officials remind everyone that in addition to the vaccination, wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands regularly will help slow the spread of the disease and keep children under 12 and immunocompromised individuals safe is important.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

Block Club Chicago: All Chicago City Workers Must Be Fully Vaccinated By Oct. 15, Lightfoot Says; by Kelly Bauer
Chicago Sun-Times: Lightfoot forges ahead with Oct. 15 vaccine mandate for city employees, despite opposition from all four police unions; by Fran Spielman
Chalkbeat Chicago: Chicago says teachers must get vaccinated by Oct. 15 or be ineligible for work; by Maia Spoto
The Prinz Law Firm: THE COVID-19 VACCINE IS HERE: WHAT ABOUT RELIGIOUS AND MEDICAL EXEMPTIONS IN THE WORKPLACE? By Poonam Lakhani
Illinois Department of Public Health: ILLINOIS CERTIFICATE OF RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION
TO REQUIRED IMMUNIZATIONS AND/OR EXAMINATIONS FORM

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Ann Fisher’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Maryland Gv Pics’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Cathy Milne-Ware is the Editor-in-Chief for Frackle Media and lead instructor for St. Agatha's News School. She enjoys helping youth discover their unlocked potential and helping them find their voice. As an instructor, her goal is to teach them the power of words and develop strategies that will serve them in the future by teaching effective communication skills including critical thinking and a sense of belonging. Cathy strives to be an advocate and mentor for each intern.

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