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Janitors who worked in Fred Meyer stores in Washington state are suing the company and its subcontractors in a class-action lawsuit alleging that they were forced to work off the clock. 

This is a case that involves layers of contractors and a big corporation at the top – Fred Meyer, which is owned by Kroger.

The janitors were employed by a subcontractor, MH Janitorial, which has since gone out of business. They say MH failed to pay them for work they did after their shift was supposed to end.

China's stock markets stumbled badly on the first day of trading in 2016, with a 7 percent plunge forcing a market shutdown. The trigger mechanism that cut the day short in Shanghai and Shenzhen was created in response to last year's market crash, which brought trillions in losses.

Why does a tai chi business not have to pay sales tax, and an aikido school does? This a question the martial arts community is asking the State Department of Revenue. Starting in 2016 a new law will require all martial arts facilities to charge sales tax.

Right before the holidays, Congress approved tax credits for clean energy. It was just a tiny part of a $1.8 trillion spending bill, but solar and wind power companies say it's a Christmas present that will catapult their industry forward. Analysts are predicting a big boost in wind and solar projects over the next few years.

In late 2008, Americans were getting crushed by an avalanche of bad business news.

Financial systems were melting down, jobs disappearing, homeowners defaulting and auto companies heading for a cliff. With so many contenders, picking that year's five biggest stories was tough.

In contrast, 2015 looks almost placid. Unemployment steadily drifted down, wages tiptoed up, the real estate scene brightened and inflation stayed low. So nominees for the biggest stories of 2015 seem tame compared with the terrifying Great Recession years.

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The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in mid-January in a case that could have big ramifications for public-sector unions in Washington state. 

It's called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the case concerns whether it’s okay that states such as California and Washington require public-sector employees to pay their union an “agency fee” for the cost of collective bargaining even if those workers opt out of paying the full amount of dues because they don’t want their money to go toward the union’s political activities. 

Greeley Tribune

Editor’s note: KPLU has hired an independent editor to oversee coverage of this story.

Last month, KPLU listeners were surprised to find out that Pacific Lutheran University, which owns KPLU's license, was planning to sell the station to the University of Washington. UW operates a rival public radio station, KUOW. 

Elaine Thompson / AP

Alaska Airlines and other plaintiffs are continuing their long legal battle over SeaTac’s $15 minimum wage law. They’ve asked a King County Superior Court judge to set a trial date so they can present evidence about how the higher minimum wage would interfere with airport operations. 

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

UPDATE: In its meeting Monday, the Seattle City Council voted 8-0 to approve a measure that allows drivers for ride-hailing companies to unionize.

Seattle’s City Council will take up an ordinance on Monday that lawyers say is unprecedented. The council is scheduled to vote on whether to allow drivers for ride-hailing companies such as Uber to form unions and collectively bargain for better pay. 

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The people who build and design airplanes for Boeing in the Puget Sound region have been the focus of a unique, two-decade-long study. A team of professors from the University of Puget Sound has surveyed thousands of Boeing workers to track how the company has transformed over time, and what that’s meant for employees.

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Stefan Hampden / Cast Architecture

Since 2010, Seattle has allowed homeowners to build cottages in their backyards, but only about 200 have been built. Now officials are trying to come up with ways to stimulate construction of cottages as part of a plan to create more housing in a rapidly growing city. 

Joshua Rappeneker / Flickr

This past year, there’s been a push among big corporations, including Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, to expand paid leave for new moms and dads.

Local governments are also boosting benefits. Earlier this year, Seattle began offering city workers four weeks of paid leave after birth or an adoption, and now King County will start piloting 12 weeks of paid parental leave in the new year.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The ride-app company Uber says it now has 10,000 active drivers in the Seattle region. It’s an example of what’s come to be called the “gig economy,” in which people use apps such as Uber or Airbnb to make some extra dough.

But author Steven Hill says these workers who are classified by the companies as independent contractors are being left behind because they lack benefits and the safety net of traditional employment. Workers such as these are sometimes called “1099 workers” because of the tax form they file instead of the regular W-2 form that employees use.

Group Health, the Seattle-based cooperative founded nearly 70 years ago, has announced it is being acquired by the much larger California-based Kaiser Permanente.

Group Health says nothing is likely to change right away for its employees or its 590,000 policyholders, as the transition is expected to take about a year. After that, Group Health would be operated as a new, eighth region of Kaiser Permanente.  

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The big news rocking the design world today is the announcement of not one, but two colors of the year for 2016. For the first time, the trend forecasting company Pantone has unveiled two selections – a light blue called Serenity and a pink called Rose Quartz. So keep your eyes peeled for everything from cardigans to coffee makers in those hues next year.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Rev. Jesse Jackson has once again traveled to the Puget Sound region to push tech giants to hire more minorities and women, but at Microsoft’s annual shareholders’ meeting, he also gave praise. 

Toby Scott / Flickr

Now that Seattle’s $15 minimum wage is being phased in, the mayor is proposing tougher rules to enforce it, including allowing workers to sue employers for violations and receive damages if they win.

A new non-profit legal group in Seattle  called the Washington Wage Claim Project aims to help workers do that. 

Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest

Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer says the way a new submarine wharf is being built on the Kitsap Peninsula should be a model for other federal projects. He says it was the first time the Department of Defense used a special labor agreement that’s supposed to ensure local workers get hired.

The U.S. drug giant Pfizer and its smaller rival Allergan have agreed to merge, creating the world's biggest pharmaceutical company by sales.

The $160 billion deal is the largest example so far of a corporate inversion, in which a U.S. company merges with a foreign company and shifts its domicile overseas in order to lower its corporate taxes.

Two tech startups you know have now gone public: Square (which makes the little white square to swipe credit cards) and Match, the online dating giant. Both companies got nice, first-day pops to their share prices as they started selling for well above the initial price. But interestingly, those initial prices were set low.

Really low.

Square was planning to price somewhere between $11 and $13 a share, which, analysts say, is already pretty cheap. But then, the company went even lower, settling for just $9. That's really, really cheap.

Bellingham, Washington-based Haggen mushroomed in size at the beginning of 2015 by acquiring 146 grocery stores across the West from Boise-based Albertsons and Safeway. Those two chains had to unload stores to gain federal approval to merge.

Puget Sound Energy

Plans for a liquefied natural gas facility at the Port of Tacoma are one step closer to reality, after the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution to move ahead on an agreement with the port about the project.

Puget Sound Energy says it needs a place to store natural gas and the way to do that is to chill it to a liquid form. So the company wants to spend $275 million to build the plant which would convert the gas to a liquid and then keep it on port property in a 140-foot-tall storage tank.

Mike Mozart / Flickr

Executives from Washington industries, ranging from software to aerospace to agriculture, are speaking out in favor of the Pacific trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Henry Alva / Flickr

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that was hammered out behind closed doors is now public, and Washington businesses and politicians will be giving their initial thoughts on it at a conference sponsored by the Washington Council on International Trade.

Northwest farmers are watching several bills closely in Congress that would try to keep trade moving through ports in the event of a labor dispute.

Reed Saxon / AP Photo

After battling in court for nine years, Boeing has agreed to pay $57 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged the company's 401(k) retirement plan charged employees excessive administrative fees and should have offered different investment options. 

Elaine Thompson / AP

The income gap in Seattle is growing and the city is becoming more like New York in its divide between rich and poor, according to a recent study done for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Now the chamber is strategizing about ways to preserve and create more middle-class jobs.

The study, done by the Boston Consulting Group, showed that the Seattle region lost 7,000 middle-income jobs from 2009 to 2013, but gained 20,000 low-income jobs and 18,000 high-income jobs.

Aaron Hushagen / KPLU

Reporters from the Pacific Northwest weigh in on stories they think didn't get enough coverage this week.

KPLU's Sound Effect hears from Ashley Stewart who covers technology and finance for the Puget Sound Business Journal; Rachel Lerman, technology reporter for The Seattle Times; and Peter Robison who heads up the Seattle bureau for Bloomberg News.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Tacoma voters have a big choice to make by next Tuesday: Do they want to move even faster than the city of Seattle in lifting their minimum wage?

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