Unionized city of Chicago employees fired or disciplined for violating COVID-19 vaccination requirements must be reinstated and repaid for any loss of wages or benefits, a state hearing officer has ruled.
The decision in a case before the Illinois Labor Relations Board applies to city workers represented by trade unions or by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The unions banded together to challenge regulations Mayor Lori Lightfoot imposed starting in 2021.
Administrative Law Judge Anna Hamburg-Gal said the city violated the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act by not bargaining in good faith over vaccine requirements and changes in sick leave policies. Her ruling, issued Wednesday, requires the city to “make whole” workers who lost pay and benefits, plus 7% annual interest.
The ruling is a broad rebuke of Lightfoot’s get-tough policies on city workers who resisted vaccination mandates, but it’s not known how many employees were penalized. One source said a few dozen employees may be directly affected by the decision.
Hamburg-Gal’s ruling goes to the agency’s board for review, and any party in the case has 30 days to file an appeal, called an “exception” in this process. The agency’s final decision can be contested directly with the Illinois Appellate Court.
“We think it’s a strong decision and favorable for worker rights generally,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME. “At issue in this case is whether an employer has an obligation to bargain over significant changes to terms and conditions of employment.”
Robert Reiter Jr., president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, said through a spokesman that the ruling “defends the rights of workers to have a say in their workplace through collective bargaining. We are hopeful that the full board will uphold the decision of the [judge] and the City will not seek to file exceptions.”
The CFL was involved in negotiations with the city.
The mayor’s office said 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.”
The office would not discuss the case beyond its statement.