MURPHYSBORO — In one of its largest gatherings in some time, the members of the Jackson County Board voted to support a resolution opposing right to work initiative.

More than 100 people attended the meeting this past Wednesday, most apparently to show support for "A Resolution Regarding Right to Work" and the board's support of it. The board voted 7-3 to support the resolution, which, in its original form, called the 'right to work' action a "race to the bottom" that would reduce pay for the workforce in the community and harm local businesses.

Discussion and voting came during a nearly two-hour board meeting, which, in contrast, attracts around eight other people.

Last month, Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to allow Right to Work zones received zero votes from members of the Illinois State House. The proposal would have allowed communities to vote on whether workers who chose to not join unions would have to pay dues to support their work.

Wednesday's Jackson County Board vote was not without opposition, though. Three members of the board -- Daniel Bost, Emily Burke and Andrew Erbes -- voted against the resolution.

Three other members — Elizabeth Hunter, Greg Legan and Tamiko Mueller — were not present for the vote.

Bost said he has been on the board since 2006, and filled a small stint in 2002, and was confounded with the progression of the resolution and voting that same night. In his years on the board, he said he has rarely seen a resolution be introduced one day, have discussion and amendment and be put to board vote the same night.

“That’s the big issue here: Is that the way it’s going to be going forward?” Bost asked.

He said he also has questions about how supporters defined "Right to Work" and did not agree with all parts of the it, leading him to not be able to support it.

According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, Inc., "A Right to Work law secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union."

The Illinois AFL-CIO claims that 'Right to Work' actions do not do what the title implies.

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"As noted, 'right-to-work' is a misnomer that has little to do with the right of a person to seek and accept gainful employment," University of Illinois and University of Michigan researchers conclude in the 2013 AFL-CIO policy brief. "Instead, RTW really means: the right to work in a compromised union setting but to nonetheless receive the benefits of collective representation without having to contribute toward the cost of obtaining those benefits."

According to writers of that the Illinois AFL-CIO policy brief, states with Right to Work zones lower workers' earnings and would negatively impact the state's economy and budget.

Board chairman John Rendleman said the board would have discussed the resolution in its Legislative Committee before Wednesdy night's meeting, but did not have a committee quorum to consider it. The issue was then placed on Wednesday night's agenda under new business, he said.

"I think this was the county’s way of saying, 'no, we’re not going to approve Right to Work zone or dispense with the prevailing wage'," Rendleman said on Saturday.

Rendleman said the title of the proposed Right to Work resolution was changed to reflect the board's concerns about workers compenstion, a prevailing wage and the local government distribution fund.

“The resolution is obviously not binding on our state legislature, but it presents a sense of the county board," Rendleman said. “I think everybody spoke in favor of its concepts, which are to support the middle class and not to make government policy that somehow opposed the middle class. There were some procedural questions, issues, but overwhelmingly (it was) approved. ”

Board member Emily Burke, who also voted no, said the resolution represented one group of people, the union and union members. Burke said her no-vote was not against unions or the middle class, which she said is made up of lots of other types of people.

“It only represented only one of the stakeholders," Burke said. "Really, my fellow board members and I should be considering all of the stakeholders in Jackson when we talk about creating jobs and developing business in Jackson County."

In a statement, Burke called the resolution a "piece of political propaganda" that was a trap.

"The document reads like a campaign flier," she said. "The hard-working people that gathered in the courthouse were being exploited by the Chicago political machine that's overreaching its bounds, to say the least. We shouldn't agree to our local government being hijacked this way — this cut-and-paste referendum has been rejected by plenty of other leaders throughout this state, and I'm disappointed that our chairman would agree to put his name on it."

In other news, the board also voted to combine two precinct districts — one of which includes the Carbondale student housing precinct that includes Southern Hills, the SIU housing complex was last occupied by students in 2012.

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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