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

Oran Viriyincy

Seattle-area drivers are losing about $1,800 a year due to driving on poor roads, congestion delays and traffic crashes on roads that are unsafe, according to a new report by TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group. The same report says drivers are wasting 48 hours a year stuck in traffic.

The report highlighted the large number of roads in the city and the state in need of repair, and the costs to drivers from things like wear and tear on their vehicles.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The owners of Seattle’s most famous landmark, the Space Needle, violated federal labor law, according to an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board. 

The landmark that dominates Seattle's skyline is owned by Space Needle LLC, a private company owned by the descendants of the construction entrepreneur Howard S. Wright. The company he founded later built the Space Needle for the 1962 World's Fair. A spokesman says the company plans to appeal the judge's decision.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Boeing says it is inspecting about 40 Dreamliners that may have hairline cracks in their wings. No planes in service are affected; the issue only affects some aircraft still in production.

Company spokesman Doug Alder says the wing manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, told Boeing that a change in their manufacturing process may have caused the cracks, which Alder says are very small.

Boeing plans to shift its non-union employees away from a defined benefit pension plan, including about 26,000 workers in the Puget Sound region. 

In January, machinists here narrowly accepted a similar pension freeze to win the 777X production line. Now, Boeing’s including non-union employees in the retirement plan change because the company says its pension obligation is unsustainable.

AP Photo

 (Editor's note: This has been updated to include Conway's analysis on the minimum wage that he presented in his March 2014 issue of The Puget Sound Economic Forecaster.)

For hours on Wednesday, people spoke up both for and against the proposal to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. At 60 percent higher than the state’s current minimum wage, it’s an eye-popping number. 

But well-known regional economist Dick Conway says the figure is not so crazy.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Business owners, union members, restaurant employees and activists each got two minutes Wednesday night to say their piece about a higher minimum wage in Seattle. The city council and a committee appointed by Mayor Ed Murray held the forum as they weigh possibly hiking the wage floor to $15 an hour. 

Molly Riley / AP Photo

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez says he supports the idea of a higher minimum wage, but he wouldn’t comment on whether Seattle’s proposed rate of $15 per hour makes sense. Perez made the comments during a visit to Boeing’s Renton factory Monday.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Income inequality in the U.S. is at its highest point in 85 years, and politicians are debating ways to raise the living standard for low-wage workers. Globalization, technology and deregulation are often cited as factors behind the widening income gap. But Jake Rosenfeld at the University of Washington says there’s one cause that’s often overlooked: the decline of organized labor.

Ashley Gross

Seattle businesses are increasingly voicing concerns over the possibility of the city hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour. On Thursday they brought those concerns to a mayor-appointed committee tasked with evaluating whether such a high minimum wage makes sense.

At $9.32 per hour, Washington state already has the highest minimum wage in the country, and $15 an hour represents a 60 percent increase.

“That kind of an immediate jump would have critical — and I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to say possibly fatal — consequences for our business,” said Peter Aaron, who owns Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Mary Altaffer / AP Photo

T-Mobile lost more money in the most recent quarter than it did a year earlier, but one longtime wireless expert says the Bellevue company’s bid to shake up the mobile-phone industry appears to be paying off. 

T-Mobile has long been considered an afterthought in the mobile world, much smaller than giants like Verizon and AT&T. But for the past year and a half, the company’s had a new CEO, John Legere, who’s used that underdog status as an advantage.

Paul Sakuma / AP Photo

From car dealers to appliance stores, businesses know tax refund season is an important time of year. The average tax refund so far this year is $3,200 and more than three-quarters of taxpayers get a refund. 

Seattle's Amazon.com undoubtedly gets a boost already from that influx of cash. But this year, the company is aiming for more.

Ashley Gross

Options are running out for tenants of an apartment complex in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood who are facing much higher rents once the new owner renovates their units. Seattle City Council members say more needs to be done to make sure other renters don’t face a similar plight.

Bruce Smith / AP Photo

The vote by Volkswagen workers in Tennessee to reject the United Auto Workers union has sent shock waves throughout the world of organized labor. And that setback is an example of why the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers faces an uphill battle organizing Boeing workers in South Carolina. 

Taylor McKnight

These days, a common question on job applications is whether you’ve ever been arrested. But a growing number of states, including Minnesota and Massachusetts, have adopted laws to remove questions about criminal history from initial job applications. Sponsors of a bill in Olympia hope to add Washington to that list. 

House Bill 2545 would prevent employers from asking for non-conviction information in initial job applications. 

AirlineReporter.com

If you’re the kind of person who knows what the thrust on Boeing’s 747-8 engines is (66,500 pounds per engine), or if you spend hours snapping pictures at Paine Field in Everett, you can probably safely call yourself an aviation geek. And you can embrace your inner-nerd by attending the annual Aviation Geek Fest.

But beware, tickets for this year’s event taking place this weekend sold out in under three minutes, faster than Seahawks playoff tickets. Benjamin Granucci, an aviation blogger from New York, was ready. 

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol

Seattle's downtown looks "spectacularly disjointed." That's the assessment of landscape architect Shannon Nichol after walking every block in a 65-acre area around the city's Pike and Pine streets, from just east of Interstate 5 down to the waterfront. 

Nichol's design firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol was hired by Downtown Seattle Association to come up with ways to spark a renaissance along the Pike/Pine corridor and make downtown more inviting and visually interesting. The group of downtown boosters wants to extend the vibrancy of Pike Place Market and the waterfront all the way up to Capitol Hill. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Port of Seattle commissioners are pushing back against pressure from other elected officials to adopt the SeaTac living wage ordinance at Sea-Tac Airport.

A total of 57 state lawmakers, King County officials and SeaTac city officials have urged the commission to drop its opposition to the SeaTac minimum wage ordinance. Last November, SeaTac voters approved Proposition 1 to lift wages for some workers in and around the airport to $15 per hour. 

Justin Steyer / KPLU

These days, Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood is dominated by wine bars and night clubs. But on one block of First Avenue, there’s a living reminder of the city’s dependence on the waterfront. Outside a two-story corner building, a few doors down from a Starbucks, is a vertical sign that reads "Catholic Seamen’s Club."  

These days, the place is known as the Catholic Seafarers’ Center and it’s run by the Archdiocese of Seattle. But for decades, the center has provided a lifeline to sailors, whether they’re here for just a few hours or months.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Seattle-based Alaska Air Group, which has fought a local living-wage ordinance, concedes that low-wage workers may need a raise, but the company's CEO doesn't think SeaTac's initiative is the answer.

About 4,700 workers at Sea-Tac International Airport were hoping to get a bump to $15 an hour at the beginning of this year. But a judge has blocked that voter-passed ordinance from taking effect at the airport.

Multiple news reports say Microsoft is likely to choose company veteran Satya Nadella its next CEO, ending a very public search that’s taken almost half a year. 

A Microsoft spokeswoman declined to confirm the reports, but if Nadella does take the reins from Steve Ballmer, he’ll become only the third CEO in the company’s 39-year history.

Chemical Safety Board

A culture of complacency at Tesoro’s Anacortes refinery led to the deadly fireball that claimed the lives of seven workers in 2010, according to federal investigators who've spent almost four years examining the causes.

The equipment that exploded in the early hours of April 2, 2010 had developed leaks that the company knew about. The carbon steel tubing of the equipment had been weakened over time by hydrogen and that had caused cracks. 

AP Photo

(Corrects to clarify that the agreement the machinists passed phases out the pension over time  and replaces it with a company-funded 401(k) retirement plan.)

Boeing's Chief Executive Jim McNerney says he’s looking forward to the prospect of no strikes for the next decade by Washington state machinists. McNerney told Wall Street analysts it made the most sense to build the next version of the 777 jet in the Puget Sound region, as long as the workers accepted the company’s contract extension offer.

Machinists narrowly approved the deal that preserves job security but phases out their pension and replaces it with a 401(k) retirement plan. McNerney says his deputy, Ray Conner, is now trying to improve morale in the wake of the vote.

Camping on West Maui. / Felix Ruess

About one out of four American workers gets no paid vacation time, and the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee that workers receive some. Now lawmakers in Olympia are considering a bill that would make Washington the first state in the country to mandate that employers provide paid vacation days.

Wally Santana / AP Photo

In the face of a steadily declining market for personal computers, Microsoft succeeded in boosting both revenue and profit in the most recent quarter, coming in ahead of analyst estimates. 

Sales climbed 14 percent to $24.5 billion in the quarter ended Dec. 31, and net income rose 2.8 percent to $6.6 billion, or 78 cents a share. The consensus estimate of analysts was 69 cents a share, according to Bloomberg. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The contentious Boeing contract extension offer that machinists narrowly passed earlier this month left many workers unhappy with their union leaders. This Saturday, they’ll have a chance to nominate new candidates for top positions in the union’s national headquarters. 

But the reform candidates face an uphill battle in their effort to dislodge the top leaders. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers hasn’t had a contested election for its highest jobs in more than half a century.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The National Labor Relations Board once again is being called into the middle of a thorny dispute between machinists and the Boeing Company. Could the agency find itself in as much political hot water this time as three years ago?

2011 is the year the NLRB exploded onto the national consciousness, all because the agency’s general counsel filed a complaint against Boeing over its decision to build a Dreamliner plant in South Carolina. That drew heated responses from many political conservatives.

Dorothea Lange, photographer, Farm Security Administration (1936)

    

The movie "12 Years A Slave" has made clear the extent of the brutality slaves had to endure before emancipation. But life in the segregationist south up until the civil rights movement was, in many ways, not much better than during slavery.

That’s clear in "Sharecropper's Troubadour," the latest book from Michael Honey, the Fred T. and Dorothy G. Haley Endowed Professor of the Humanities at the University of Washington Tacoma. It’s an oral history of an African-American man named John Handcox, who braved the wrath of plantation owners by using his gift for song to organize sharecroppers into a union. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Regional economist Dick Conway says even though we have lots of big, vibrant companies in the Puget Sound area these days, our economy still rises and falls with the fortunes of one, a certain aerospace giant.

And that's why he says it's so critical that Boeing's 777x jet will be built in Washington state after members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers voted narrowly to accept a contract extension. They agreed to cuts in hard-fought retirement and health benefits to preserve those jobs. 

The mood at the Seattle union hall was quiet, almost funereal on the night Boeing workers narrowly approved an offer to build the company's new airliner, the 777X.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers who had gathered had wanted to reject the offer. But they were in a tight spot. They risked losing the bid to one of the 21 states hoping to step in.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Citing health concerns and two hospital stays brought on by stress connected to the Boeing 777x contract extension proposal, the embattled local leader of the machinists' union says he'll resign at the end of the month. 

Tom Wroblewski, 59, has been president of District Lodge 751 of the machinists' union since 2007. Prior to the post, he served as a grievance coordinator as well as a business representative for the union, with assignments throughout the Puget Sound region. 

The experience of the 777X contract proposal "changed my perspective on work-life balance," Wroblewski said in a statement. "Your job should not destroy your health."

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