CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Fraternal Order of Police promised legal action Wednesday to block Mayor Lori Lightfoot's COVID vaccine mandate, even as the union mourns the loss of a former president to the virus.
Chicago's vaccine mandate for city workers is set to take effect Friday. But FOP president John Catanzara said the city may face a public safety crisis if it does, as hundreds of officers may not be on duty.
"You are running the risk of literally opening up this city to looting. Even worse than last year, because you're not gonna have any police on the street on the weekend," Catanzara said.
Catanzara suggested half the police force could report for duty and get sent home because they intend to defy the mayor's deadline.
"This is not a call for a strike, this is not a blue flu, this is not a work stoppage, this will be a city lockout of our employees, our officers going to work, period, by the employer," he said.
All city workers, including police officers, have until Friday to submit proof of vaccination or be placed into "no pay" status. Their only other option is to take two COVID tests weekly at their own expense.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot is not bending on her reporting deadline.
"The only way we can make this work is we've got to hold people accountable, and we are absolutely prepared to do that," she said.
The mayor said she has not ordered the police department to cancel days off and put officers on 12 hour shifts.
"We'll see what happens, we'll be prepared for any eventuality," Lightfoot said. "Again, our messages to the members: protect yourself, protect your family, protect your partner, protect members of the public, get yourself vaccinated."
Hundreds of police officers filed into union headquarters Wednesday night for a Q&A with Catanzara about what's next for the rank and file who do not comply with the mandate.
"I don't know the mayor in good conscience can force this to go forward, and risk sending half the police department home. And subjecting the citizens of this city to that," he said.
Catanzara is threatening to file a temporary restraining order to ask a judge to delay the mayor's mandate.
"We're notifying the city the demand for expedited arbitration along with filing unfair labor practice with the labor board," he said Tuesday. "Tomorrow we'll be filing court paperwork for a temporary restraining order."
"He's threatening litigation, I say bring it," Lightfoot responded. "Because we're going to create a safe workplace for all of our employees."
But later Wednesday, Catanzara said the union might delay its request for a temporary restraining order until Thursday to see how the city responds to its call for expedited arbitration. But he also made it clear: They're not going to budge from their position.
"This is very clearly not a job action, not a call for a strike, none of that illegal stuff that I'm sure the city is going to try to make it out to be," he said. "I've made my status very clear as far as the vaccine, but I do not think the city has the authority to mandate that to anybody, let alone the information about your medical history, and change the terms of employment, so to speak, on the fly, and you have to comply."
The FOP maintains the city should provide an allowance for a conscientious exemption, in addition to the religious and medical exemptions that are currently allowed. Catanzara also issued a warning about what may soon come if the mayor doesn't negotiate with the union.
"It's safe to say the city of Chicago will have a police force at 50% or less for this weekend coming up. That is not because of the FOP. That is 100% because of the mayor's unwillingness to budge from her hard line," he said.
41st Ward Alderman Anthony Napolitano is one of six who sent a letter to Lightfoot asking her to rescind the mandate.
"I believe that she's going to be back in the corner right now because I think the men and women of both the police department and the Chicago Fire Department, as well as other city workers, are going to stand up against this, they want a right to decide what's put in their body," he said.
Aldermen Marty Quinn and Matt O'Shea also sent a letter to the mayor late Wednesday writing in part, "We are extremely concerned that our communities will be put in serious danger."
In a social media post Tuesday, Catanzara urged his members to not comply with the vaccine mandate. The message was issued the same day former FOP President Dean Angelo died from COVID-19.
Angelo served as FOP president from 2014 to 2017, and leading up to his death he was in the intensive care unit in critical condition.
The dispute comes as a new report from the National Law Enforcement Museum reveals that a full 62% of all line-of-duty law enforcement deaths across the country last year were from COVID-19.
The mayor said Wednesday the city is seeing an exponential growth in the number of city workers reporting their vaccination status, but she could not provide hard numbers.