Judge Orders Chicago To Reinstate Workers Fired Over Vaccinations

Tables were turned on Chicago’s termination of employees who refused COVID-19 vaccinations during the pandemic. A state administrative law judge ruled this week that workers must be reinstated with back pay — including interest.

The 2021 vaccine mandate was challenged by over 20 labor unions before the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The group filed an unfair labor practices charge against the actions of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration.

Administrative Judge Anna Hamburg-Gal wrote that Chicago “failed and refused” to deal in good faith with unionized city workers who resisted the controversial vaccines.

A broad swath of city employees are affected by the ruling, including carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, machinists, and other unionized workers.

And not only must the Windy City reinstate those wrongfully terminated, it must pay them back wages and benefits with 7% annual inflation tacked on.

It was 2021 when Mayor Lightfoot announced that every Chicago city employee must be fully vaccinated, no matter their risk factors or preference. She chided hesitant workers that they would encounter “consequences” for failure to follow the edict.

In a press release, she warned that noncompliance would result in being placed in a “non-disciplinary, no pay status.” This led to her being booed while addressing a union fundraiser a short time later.

The mayor’s office expressed its unhappiness at the repeal of the city’s action. In a statement, Chicago officials said “yesterday’s ruling was an erroneous decision that does not follow the law, facts, nor importantly the science.”

Unions had a very different take on the judge’s decision. Anders Lindall of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees told the Chicago Sun-Times that it was “a strong decision and favorable for worker rights generally.”

He added that it was basically a labor rights concern. “At issue, in this case, is whether an employer has an obligation to bargain over significant changes to terms and conditions of employment.”

In this case, he said, the city did not perform to that standard.

The Fraternal Order of Police(FOP) has a separate lawsuit against the city over the same issue. Lodge 7 local president John Catanzara lauded the decision, saying the union hoped the labor board ruling “is a citywide policy going forward.”

Lightfoot spokesman Cesar Rodriguez said the city is “evaluating next steps.” Her term ends May 15 after she became the first incumbent Chicago mayor in four decades to be voted out of office.