Ashley Gross

Business and Labor Reporter

Ashley Gross is KPLU's business and labor reporter, covering everything from Amazon.com and Boeing to garbage strikes. She joined the station in May 2012 after working for five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.

She studied history at Brown University and earned a master's in international affairs at Columbia University. She grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two sons.

One of Ashley's most memorable moments in radio happened several years ago in Northwest Alaska: "I was visiting an alcohol and drug rehab program in the tiny village of Selawik. It helps Alaska Natives recover by helping them get back in touch with their subsistence lifestyle. It was spring, which meant the river was still frozen - barely. We went out on snowmachines to go ice-fishing, but late in the day, as we headed back, the river had melted to the consistency of a Slurpee. It was a harrowing ride and a good lesson in trust - I rode with my eyes closed, clinging for dear life to the woman driving. A week later, three people drowned trying to ride a snowmachine over that river, and that's when I realized just how dangerous life in rural Alaska can be."

Ways To Connect

AP Images

To much fanfare last week, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and upheld Obamacare subsidies. But those decisions overshadowed another ruling – one that has Washington state legal aid lawyers cheering.

The case has to do with the Fair Housing Act, which aims to eliminate discrimination in housing. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court said plaintiffs don’t have to prove intentional discrimination. Instead, they can use statistics to show that even neutral-sounding policies can have discriminatory effects.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU News

(Corrects that Jinkins was not in the car with her wife, Laura Wulf, and corrects spelling of Wulf's name.)

State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, was on the way to the airport with her son on Friday when they got the news: the U.S. Supreme Court had made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

The first openly lesbian lawmaker in Olympia, Jinkins married long-time partner Laura Wulf in 2013. There in the car, Jinkins says she teared up. Her son got quiet.

NASA

Two holographic devices made by Microsoft and NASA are scheduled to lift off in a spacecraft from Cape Canaveral this Sunday on a resupply mission headed for the International Space Station. Astronauts on board the space station, including Scott Kelly, will test out the high-tech headsets.

Here's one way they could be used: Say something breaks on the space station and you need to fix it. You're orbiting 200 miles away from earth and need to reach an expert at Mission Control in Houston.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The fast-track bill that passed in the U.S. Senate clears the way for President Obama to finish negotiating a new Pacific Rim trade deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

That’s welcome news to Washington businesses ranging from dairy farmers to potato growers to aerospace suppliers, as well as Northwest Door, a Puyallup-based maker of garage doors. 

AP Images

Labor groups, including ones in Washington state, have suffered a big defeat. The U.S. Senate has voted to move ahead with the so-called fast-track trade bill, paving the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which union leaders say ultimately could result in lost jobs.

For the Washington State Labor Council, blocking this fast-track bill has been high priority for the past 18 months, according to the group’s president, Jeff Johnson.

File Photo

(Corrected spelling of Muilenburg's name.)

Boeing says Chief Executive Jim McNerney will turn over the reins to Dennis Muilenburg, who has served as the aerospace company’s president and chief operating officer since 2013. Muilenburg will take over on July 1st.

McNerney will stay on as chairman of the board and will work at the company to help with the transition until he retires at the end of February 2016, the company said in a statement. Muilenburg has been elected a member of the board.

Muilenburg is 51 and has worked for Boeing for 30 years. He joined Boeing as an engineering intern in Seattle in 1985 and centered his career in the company’s defense business. He headed Boeing’s Defense Space and Security business from 2009 until 2013.  

But the commercial airplane side of the company is where Muilenburg faces a number of decisions to make soon, said aviation analyst Scott Hamilton. 

Decisions To Make

"The more pressing issues for Dennis are going to be what to do about the 747 production rate and whether or not to even continue the program," Hamilton said. Muilenburg will also have to decide "whether or not to acknowledge what everybody else already believes is going to happen and that is a rate reduction on the 777 classic in advance of the 777X."

Doug / Flickr

Boeing says it’s exploring the idea of building a new mid-sized jet, and Washington state officials say they’re already lobbying the company to build it here. 

The company says customers have been asking for something bigger than the 757, which is a single-aisle plane that was built in Renton from 1982 to 2005. Spokespeople for Boeing say the company is evaluating “low-risk solutions.” 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The vote in the U.S. House last Friday that effectively stalled President Obama’s push for a big Asia-Pacific trade deal has brought attention to a little known worker assistance program called Trade Adjustment Assistance. That program’s been around since the 1960s to help Americans who lose their jobs due to global trade.  

Under the President’s trade bill it would have been retooled and extended, but Democrats in the U.S. House torpedoed that idea as a way to put the brakes on the larger trade legislation. But in Washington state, thousands of workers have benefited from the assistance program over the years.

One town that’s felt the downsides of global trade is Aberdeen, Washington.

JSSWA Washington National Guard / Flickr

 (Updates to add that Rep. Adam Smith says he'll vote no.)

The U.S. House is expected to vote this week on a trade bill that’s drawn criticism from labor and environmental groups. It's known as the Trade Promotion Authority bill, and most of Washington state's Congressional delegation supports it. 

But now Democratic Reps. Denny Heck and Adam Smith say they'll join Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott in voting no. In doing so, they're standing up to President Barack Obama, who has urged passage of the bill.

BTC Keychain / Flickr

There’s long been a mystery surrounding the creation of Bitcoin, the anonymous, digital currency that emerged online in early 2009. The person who wrote the original code used the name Satoshi Nakamoto. He created a way to send a new kind of cash online without any intermediary, such as a bank.

But who is Satoshi Nakamoto? He communicated with other digital currency enthusiasts only by email – never in person or by phone. And then, in 2011, he stopped communicating altogether.

Ashley Gross / KPLu

A top Boeing executive says the airline industry is enjoying record profits because of increasing demand for air travel and a decline in oil prices.

Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s vice president of marketing, sounded optimistic when he spoke with reporters in a briefing ahead of the Paris Air Show, which begins June 15th. Tinseth says air passenger traffic grew six percent last year, above the historical rate of five percent, and should grow six percent again this year.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

It’s coming down to the wire for the Export-Import Bank, the federal agency that offers financing and loan guarantees to help U.S. businesses export goods. Some Republicans want to let the bank’s charter expire at the end of this month. 

Washington state businesses are paying close attention to this fight because Boeing is the biggest beneficiary of the Export-Import Bank. Reuters recently reported that Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said the company might have to shift engineering and manufacturing jobs overseas if the bank disappears. 

Ashley Gross

(Correction: Boeing projects 14 percent fuel savings for the MAX compared with the current Next-Generation 737, not 20 percent.)

Boeing has started building the wings for the newest model of its popular 737 single-aisle jet. It competes with the Airbus A320neo.

The first 737 MAX is scheduled to begin flight tests next year and be delivered in 2017. The MAX will use new engines, and Boeing says the jet will use 14 percent less fuel than the current 737s, known as Next-Generation.

Tim VanReenen / Flickr

Forty percent of jobs in Washington state are tied to trade, but the issue of creating new free trade agreements is divisive.

The U.S. House is expected to vote this month on so-called fast-track trade authority, which would give the president the power to negotiate trade agreements and send them to Congress for an up or down vote. Lawmakers wouldn’t be able to amend those trade deals. The fast-track bill also spells out certain labor and environmental standards Congress wants.

Port of Tacoma / Flickr

The cargo shipping industry is in the midst of big changes and that’s prompting the ports of Seattle and Tacoma to forge an alliance.

Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Mario Cordero, the top regulator of the nation's ports, says the alliance is a "great idea."

Robert Karma / Flickr

The port of Seattle and airlines agree – improvements at the airport are needed to handle growing numbers of international passengers. But a central question remains:  who pays for the expansion? 

Traffic at Sea-Tac International Airport has been booming and is expected to keep climbing. But there’s dispute among airlines about how to pay for a new international arrivals facility, which would be a spot for people go through customs and pick up their baggage.

401(k) 2012 / Flickr

The city of Tacoma is trying to get business owners to settle their unpaid tax bills by offering a one-time amnesty that will let businesses off the hook for penalties and interest if they come forward and pay. 

Danielle Larson, tax and license manager for the city of Tacoma, says the city’s recently boosted enforcement of tax collections by adding three compliance officers. But she says the city council also wanted to give businesses a chance to come forward voluntarily and pay their liabilities without penalties.

Boeing

Even in this day and age, aviation is a male-dominated industry. But when Boeing delivered a new 737-900ER to United Airlines on Wednesday at King County International Airport, men were the ones in the minority – by design.

Auntneecey / Flickr

A new law signed by Governor Jay Inslee eliminates most legal fees for juvenile offenders, removing a burden that’s been particularly hard for low-income families.

Democratic Representative Ruth Kagi, who sponsored the bill in the state House, says there's a long list of court fees that are getting eliminated for people under age 18.  

"Criminal conviction fee, juvenile criminal conviction penalty, criminal filing fee, juvenile crime victim penalty fee," Kagi said. "And there are many, many more."

These add up.

Jeffrey Pott / Flickr

Many of us feel powerless about online security. When hackers can get around the defenses of giant corporations such as Target or J.P. Morgan Chase, it’s hard to imagine how regular folks stand a chance. But a new effort by AARP, Microsoft, the state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission aims to let people know what they can do.

KPLU asked Andrew Becherer, technical vice president for the computer security consulting company NCC Group, for three tips.

1.      Exercise “good password hygiene.”

That means you should have a different password for every account. Becherer says he knows that sounds daunting, but there are ways to keep track of all those passwords. One way is to use a password manager – software that stores all of your passwords for you. You just need to remember one password that gets you into the password manager.

Ellen McLain had a long career as an opera singer. But now her voice is most famous for something entirely different: video games. McLain is the voice of GLaDOS, the passive-aggressive computer in the games Portal and Portal 2.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

A maritime festival taking place in Seattle this week is a good reminder of our city’s strong ties to the ocean. Thursday evening, an event called Stories of the Sea takes place at a pub at Fishermen’s Terminal. It’s like a story slam for fishermen, ferry captains and other mariners. 

For a taste of the event, I tracked down emcee John van Amerongen, who pulled out his guitar and sang his song, "Trip to the Bering Sea," a wry tale about a guy on a crabbing boat for the first time. The young man has an unfortunate encounter with the bait chopper, a machine that grinds up fish.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

In 2011, there was no crude oil transported by train in Washington. Two years later, 700 million gallons of crude came through the state.

Concern over those trains has prompted officials in Anacortes to hold a forum Wednesday evening to discuss emergency response. 

Andrew Harnik / AP Photo

Washington’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, is introducing a bill to phase in a $12-an-hour federal minimum wage by 2020, lifting the national wage floor up from the current $7.25. Her fellow Democrat, Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott, is sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives.

The effort is another attempt by Democrats to raise pay for the nation’s lowest earners. Last year, Republicans blocked legislation supported by President Barack Obama that would have hiked the minimum wage to $10.10 over a period of three years. Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz have argued that lifting the minimum wage would lead to job losses.

Bill Downing / Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

At an annual ceremony, the state remembered 89 workers who died on the job during the past two years.

The deaths ranged from ones in industries known as dangerous, such as logging and truck driving, to high-profile accidents such as the crash of a KOMO TV helicopter near Seattle’s Space Needle in March 2014, which killed the pilot Gary Pfitzner, 59, and photojournalist Bill Strothman, 60.

Scott Hingst / Flickr

Silicon Valley tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple have all been opening offices in Seattle in recent years.

Now, the City of Destiny wants in on the action. Tacoma recently paid $2,600 to run a quarter-page ad in the San Jose Mercury News, one of the biggest newspapers serving California's Silicon Valley, aimed at persuading tech companies that want to expand in the Pacific Northwest to look 35 miles south of Seattle.

AP Images

Amazon shares jumped more than 5 percent after the company provided results for its cloud-computing business for the first time and showed it to be more profitable than investors expected.

Profits have long been elusive for Amazon, and the company posted another loss in the most recent quarter. Amazon said it had a net loss of $57 million, or 12 cents a share, in the quarter ended March 31, compared with net income of $108 million, or 23 cents, a year earlier.

But now Amazon has provided financial details for its cloud division, known as Amazon Web Services, that allows businesses to use Amazon’s computers instead of running their own. AWS net sales totaled $1.57 billion, with an operating profit of $265 million.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing’s first-quarter earnings climbed 38 percent on strong demand for commercial airplanes. But the stock slipped 1.4 percent, partly on concern that low oil prices could hurt sales.

Growth in air travel, especially in Asia and the Middle East, has helped boost demand for Boeing and Airbus planes in recent years. But the 40 percent drop in oil prices since last July has investors wondering whether airlines will decide not to buy the newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Editor’s Note: This story works best as an audio experience, so we urge you to take a listen.

What if you poured your energy into becoming an opera singer, but then became famous for doing the voice of a computer in a blockbuster video game?

That’s the unexpected twist in Ellen McLain’s career. She’s performed countless roles in operas in Seattle and Tacoma and acted in many Seattle theaters.

But now the thing she’s most famous for is doing the voice of GLaDOS, the sweet-sounding but passive-aggressive computer in Valve’s hit video games Portal and Portal 2.

Diueine Monteiro / Flickr

About 240 more homeless veterans in Washington state will soon have an option for permanent housing.

The federal government has teamed up with local officials across the country, including Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine, to tackle veteran homelessness. Julian Castro, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, spelled out their ambitious goal at a press conference in Seattle.

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