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 exercises with management, executives refused SPEEA’s terms. On top of refusing the union’s demands around pay and bonuses, they wanted workers to greenlight a contract that reduced employee benefits.

“They basically dared us to strike,” says Sorscher. Which they did on Wednesday, February 9, 2000. Sorscher told the Kitsap Sun that “I just went to work, shut down my computer, copied my hard drive to Zip disks, and got the hell out of there.”

The strike was, and still is, hailed as historic: It was one of the largest ever white-collar walkouts, and at a high-tech company, no less. Both a workforce and a sector frequently labeled union-proof and unorganizable had done the unexpected on a huge scale.

Over the last two years, organizing and protest among workers at tech companies have surged. Workers at Google and Amazon walked off the job in mass over sexual harassment and climate, respectively. Following Trump’s…