On Sept. 18, workers at Disability Rights Oregon, which provides legal aid to Oregonians with disabilities, voted unanimously to join the National Organization of Legal Services Workers Union.

In a statement today, those employees accused management of retaliatory layoffs. They alleged that on Oct. 21, seven of DRO's 17 unionized workers received layoff notices, which would reduce the number of unionized staff members to nine. DRO has 25 full time and 2 part-time employees. 10 are managers and ineligible for unionization.

"Two weeks after union recognition," the unionized employees said in a statement, "management demanded emergency bargaining under threat of immediate discretionary layoffs, citing a fiscal emergency. This demand is almost unheard of when opening union negotiations. Management refused to consider other methods of reducing staff expenses, such as mandatory furloughs or a hiring freeze. "

Matthew Denney, a DRO lawyer who helped helm the union drive and is one of the employees facing a layoff, says union members scrambled to put a bargaining team together to negotiate layoff terms, and that the meetings with management "didn't go very well."

He says the union did eventually put together a layoff proposal that management agreed to bargain over.

"We agreed to this procedure," Denney says, "not to a layoff of seven union members."

Denney says the union drive, "wasn't so much over wages or benefits as it was over policies that were being implemented and a lack of a human resources department."

In a statement, Jan Campbell, DRO's president of the board of directors, denied allegations that the layoffs are a method of union-busting.

"As a nonprofit Board, we must put our duty to DRO and the 950,000 Oregonians with disabilities first," Campbell said. "It was a difficult decision, and the Board and leadership did not make it lightly. Unfortunately, this is necessary to continue Disability Rights Oregon's strong standing, which will allow us to protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities for many more years. We are grateful for everyone's contributions to the agency and know this is a difficult time for the staff."

The next negotiation meeting between management and the union is scheduled for Oct. 28.