Chicago police union official likens vaccine standoff with Mayor Lightfoot to ‘The Hunger Games,’ as city seeks to expand restraining order against FOP

·3 min read
Chicago police union official likens vaccine standoff with Mayor Lightfoot to ‘The Hunger Games,’ as city seeks to expand restraining order against FOP

A top Chicago police union official on Wednesday referred to the organization’s vaccine standoff with Mayor Lori Lightfoot as “The Hunger Games” and warned younger officers that if they gave in on this, “What issue is next?”

The message from local Fraternal Order of Police First Vice President Michael Mette, in a video posted on social media, came as the Police Department slowly works through the process of dealing with the thousands of employees who did not report their vaccine status by Friday’s deadline. The city has been giving those employees counseling and a final chance to comply before placing those who refuse on no-pay status.

“Welcome to day three of ‘The Hunger Games,’ where we find out who the city is going to offer up as tribute,” Mette said, likening the situation to a series of young adult books and movies in which children in a dystopian world are forced to fight to the death for the enjoyment of viewers.

Police Superintendent David Brown on Tuesday afternoon said 21 officers were on no-pay status because they refused to report their vaccine status in the city portal.

Mette called on officers to “stand strong,” saying the union needs to make the city bargain with them about enforcing the mandate.

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“If we fail to make them bargain with us on this issue, what issue is next?” he asked. “For all you young coppers out there, you got a long way to go and don’t think it can’t get worse.”

A Cook County judge last week issued a temporary restraining order against FOP President John Catanzara, prohibiting him from making public statements that encourage members not to report their COVID-19 vaccine status to the city.

In court Wednesday, city attorney Michael Warner told Judge Cecilia Horan the administration would seek to extend the restraining order against Catanzara, which is set to expire Monday, and will ask to broaden the order to cover other FOP officials.

“There have been some mass email communications coming from officials other than Mr. Catanzara that we believe, if they do not violate the letter of your honor’s orders, violate the spirit,” Warner said. “And also, while this underlying issue of the vaccination policy remains unresolved, we think the status quo needs to be maintained.”

Horan on Wednesday ruled against the FOP’s motion calling for her to recuse herself from the case.

The union requested she do so because attorneys from Hinshaw & Culbertson, the law firm at which Horan was a partner before becoming a judge, took part in the Task Force on Police Accountability created in 2015 by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and co-chaired by Lori Lightfoot, which recommended sweeping changes in Police Department oversight and accountability following the Laquan McDonald shooting.

Horan said she had nothing to do with that work, and didn’t know other lawyers at the firm were involved in it.

Lightfoot on Tuesday said fewer than 65% of Chicago cops had met the city’s vaccination reporting requirement, days after Friday’s deadline for city workers to disclose their status.

About 72% of Chicago firefighters had by then met the requirement set by Lightfoot as a condition of city workers’ employment, she said. The mayor extended the deadline for city workers to be fully vaccinated, allowing for twice-weekly testing as an alternative through the end of the year. But police union officials have said part of their concern is the security of their medical data in the city’s portal.

More than 95% of all other city workers outside the Police and Fire departments have complied with the vaccine reporting rules, Lightfoot said. City officials have also stressed the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com