Don’t Call It a Trend: A Brief History of Organizing in Tech

The current wave of tech-worker protests isn’t without precedent

Andy Wright
Published in
8 min readFeb 17, 2020


Photos: Courtesy of Stan Soscher; Mason Trinca/Stringer/Getty Images

OOne of the most remarkable accomplishments of the strike that took place at Boeing in 2000 wasn’t getting more than 15,000 white-collar workers to walk off the job, it was getting a bunch of engineers to agree on one thing, jokes Stan Sorscher, a former Boeing employee and retired labor representative for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).

“If you asked engineers ‘What’s the boiling point of water?’, I’m not sure you’d get 97% of them to agree,” he says. “They’d say, ‘Well, wait, what else did you do? Are there any impurities in the water?’”

But by February 2000, the engineers and technicians employed at the airplane manufacturing company were fed up. After a 1997 merger with rival McDonnell Douglas, Boeing employees experienced a rapid culture shift, Sorscher says. There was a sense that the concerns of engineers were being sidelined in favor of cost-cutting. Sorscher, who worked as a physicist at Boeing and was a negotiator for SPEEA, which represents the company’s engineers and technicians, says the final straw came when management refused to budge on contract negotiations. After a hopeful period during which the union organized team-building…