Chicago city employees face Sunday deadline to get first vaccine dose, or risk losing pay

CHICAGO (CBS) — This weekend brings a looming deadline for thousands of Chicago city workers. They could lose paychecks if they haven’t gotten at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Sunday is the deadline for Chicago police officers to get either their first shot of the Pfizer of Moderna vaccine, or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Most other city workers faced earlier deadlines, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned that any city workers who haven’t complied with the vaccine mandate by Monday «will be placed in a non-disciplinary, no pay status until they come into compliance with the policy.»

That means come Monday morning, there could be thousands of city workers without pay. The mayor warned those employees they also could be fired if they continue to refuse to get vaccinated.

Chicago Fire Capt. Robert Tebbens has served with the Chicago Fire Department for 28 years, and has been on no-pay status since Nov. 2 for failing to report his vaccination status to the city.

Tebbens decided not to upload his vaccine status to the city of Chicago employee vaccination portal, citing security concerns.

He called the concept of «non-disciplinary, no pay status» an oxymoron.

Tebbens questioned the need for requiring all city employees to be vaccinated, when COVID numbers have dropped off sharply.

«If there’s an emergency, if this is imperative right now, how could we have worked two years?» he said. «It’s what I call the heavy hand of Lightfoot. I mean it’s her way, and that’s it, and she seems to be locked in a battle right now, and that’s not the proper way to handle a relationship with the executive of the city of Chicago and the relationship with her employees the public servants that serve the city.»

He also took issue with the policy for not letting labor unions – he’s a member of Chicago Fire Fighters Local 2 – weigh in on the city’s vaccination policy.

«We’re addressing vaccination, we’re addressing testing, and a privacy issue of protected health information; and those issues are fundamental rights of an individual,» Tebbens said.

As of March 8, at least 3,575 city workers were not yet vaccinated. Of those, 2,777 are employees of the Chicago Police Department, and 327 work for the Fire Department.

The City Council and its staff has the lowest vaccination rate of any city agency, at 84.42%

Tebbens questioned the wisdom of threatening to fire Chicago police officers for failing to get vaccinated at a time the city is facing high crime.

«You’re going to take police officers and throw them out on the street, and fire them, over potentially having natural immunity, and the ability to serve and protect the citizens of Chicago,» Tebbens said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office insisted enforcement of the vaccination policy won’t be a safety concern.

«These decisions will be addressed at an individual and department level, and are being undertaken in a manner that will not impact public safety or the continuity of everyday government operations,» her office said in a statement.

Lightfoot’s order requiring all city workers to get vaccinated allows those who miss the deadline for their shots to be placed on non-disciplinary no-pay status.

City workers who have applied for religious or medical exemptions from the vaccine mandate will be excused from getting their shots until the city rules on their requests. If their exemption is denied, they’ll get six weeks to comply.

Chicago isn’t alone in threatening to take away city workers’ paychecks or fire them if they don’t get vaccinated.

In New York, 1,430 workers have been fired for not getting vaccinated, less than 1% of the city’s workforce. Most of those fired – 900 – worked for the Department of Education, while only 36 worked for the NYPD.

New York allowed more time for those seeking exemptions

In Los Angeles, at least 244 full-time city employees were put on unpaid leave as Los Angeles’ vaccine mandate went into effect on Dec. 18.

Just over 80% of Los Angeles city employees were in compliance with the vaccination mandate at that time.

Previously here in Chicago, non-vaccinated city employees could opt out of the vaccination requirement by getting tested twice per week, but that will no longer be the case come Monday.

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