The Illinois Labor Relations Board overturned the Covid-19 vaccine mandate implemented on the city of Chicago employees by Mayor Lori Lightfoot in October 2021. It ruled her administration disregarded the law by failing to bargain with employee unions.
The labor board ordered the city to rehire employees fired after they refused to get the vaccine and awarded them back pay, including interest, to employees disciplined for refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate.
The ruling was an apparent response to a complaint filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 (AFSCME), along with the Coalition of Unionized Public Employees, representing over two dozen labor organizations representing city employees.
Bob Reiter, Chicago Federation of Labor President, said Mayor Lightfoot, who will depart office in less than a month after losing her reelection bid, unilaterally imposed the vaccine mandate. If the ruling stands, how many employees would be rehired is still being determined.
“The right call is collaboration,” Reiter said and added that the complaint was not prompted by the ongoing debate over whether employees should or shouldn’t be vaccinated for Covid-19. “This is the right decision.”
According to Reiter, a decision that upheld Lightfoot’s action would have weakened all of Illinois’ labor rights.
The board agreed with the unions that the mayor and her top aides violated contracts by unilaterally imposing the vaccine mandate without consulting union leaders as required.
“The ruling affirms that when an employer contemplates significant changes to terms of employment, it has a duty to bargain in good faith with the union. In this case, the city did not do that,” said a spokesperson for AFSCME, Anders Lindall. “By underscoring the employer’s obligation to engage with the union, this strong decision will bolster workers’ rights going forward.”
Lightfoot’s press secretary says the ruling is “flawed”
However, Lightfoot’s press secretary, Cesar Rodriguez, said the judgment is flawed. The city must file any objection to the decision within 30 days before it becomes final.
“The record before the administrative law judge tells a completely different story,” said Rodriguez. “[The] ruling was an erroneous decision that does not follow the law, facts nor importantly the science. We are currently reviewing the ruling and evaluating next steps.”
Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara celebrated the decision in a video posted to the union’s YouTube page. The police union previously sued to block the vaccine mandate and lost.
“Today’s a great day for labor in the state of Illinois and Chicago,” said Catanzara, and called on Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson to not object to the ruling and “move on and do the right thing on behalf of all union members in this city.”
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky also applauded the decision, tweeting, “Gotta love it when petty tyrants are given some comeuppance,” linking an article about the ruling from Administrative Law Judge Anna Hamburg-Gal.
The debate over whether officers with the Chicago Police Department were required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 raged in Chicago politics for months but ended quietly after the April 13 deadline passed and Lightfoot, along with Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, made not move to discipline the hundreds of city officers that refused to be vaccinated.