In Seattle in 1999 and 2000, corporate executives were saying things that must have made their communications staffers reach for the Rolaids. At Boeing, early in 2000, the vice president for employee relations declared that the aerospace giant’s engineers “have to understand that they are no longer the center of the universe.” At Microsoft, a year earlier, the company’s then-chief financial officer, told a conference that “the quality” of the company’s temporary employees, many of whom worked as software testers or technical writers, was “not as good as the quality of the full-time people.”
Not surprisingly, the employees felt demeaned and responded angrily. At Boeing, the 17,000 engineers and technicians went on strike for seven weeks—the largest and longest strike by professional employees in private industry in this country. At Microsoft, many of the temp workers joined an innovative organization, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, which maintains a muckraking Web site reporting on what it deems unfair treatment of employees in the technology industry.