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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.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Boeing lobbyists are throwing a "thank you" party for lawmakers who helped provide the company with billions in tax breaks.

An invitation obtained by The Associated Press shows Boeing executives will host a reception for lawmakers on Tuesday evening. The event will take place at a house across the street from the Capitol campus and is slated to thank lawmakers for their efforts on the 777X airplane talks.

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.

Austin Jenkins

 

A paper mill in Hoquiam has had its share of ups and downs over the past seven years.

It was a major employer and once even referred to as the “greenest” paper mill in the country. It was also a symbol for Grays Harbor County’s effort to reinvent itself after the timber market collapsed.

But now the mill is closed for good.

The nearly six-month-long search for Microsoft's next CEO is nearing an end, and news reports indicate it's likely the technology giant will turn to Satya Nadella, executive vice president of its Cloud and Enterprise group, to lead the company.

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. 

Courtesy of Meier Architecture Engineering

Southeast Washington is getting an economic boost. Two announcements made Wednesday are expected to lead to new jobs in the area. 

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is building a $10 million facility in north Richland, near the rest of the lab’s campus. The facility will house research on the power grid's reliability, renewable energy and greater energy efficiency in buildings.

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. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The unemployment rate in Washington state has fallen to the lowest level in five years.

New numbers for December from the state Employment Department peg the current jobless rate at 6.6 percent. The figure hasn’t dipped lower since November 2008.

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.

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. 

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."

AP Photo

Boeing is confirming an incident with a battery on a Japan Airlines 787, in a reminder of the problems that grounded the plane for three months last year.

Boeing says it appears that a single battery cell "vented," or released gas. It was discovered during scheduled maintenance on the ground at Tokyo's Narita airport on Tuesday. No passengers were on board.

It’s taking longer for Pierce County to bounce back from the recession than counties to the north, such as King and Snohomish. But economists at Pacific Lutheran University expect the economy in Tacoma and the region to show some improvement this year. 

PLU economists Martin Wurm and Neal Johnson have been crunching the numbers on everything from Pierce County’s housing market to retail sales to come up with an economic forecast. 

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wishes states weren't in constant competition to provide financial incentives in order secure jobs from big companies.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Airport workers are urging Port of Seattle commissioners to adopt the $15 per hour minimum wage that voters in the city of SeaTac passed last November. 

The Port of Seattle, which oversees the seaport as well as Sea-Tac International Airport, argued in court late last year that it doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the SeaTac minimum wage initiative. King County Judge Andrea Darvas agreed, and as a result, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and other airport workers who had been hoping for a jump in pay at the beginning of this year haven’t gotten one.

Vincent Yu / AP Photo

Ford CEO Alan Mulally says he will not leave the automaker for Microsoft and will stay at Ford at least through 2014.

Mulally is widely credited with saving Ford after being hired away from Boeing in 2006. But in recent months there have been numerous reports that he was in the running for the top job at Microsoft, where CEO Steve Ballmer has said he plans to leave the company sometime this year.

Courtesy of Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Washington.

A Hood River distillery has the top-selling brand of liquor, according to sales numbers released by the state of Oregon. But other craft distillers say those hot numbers don’t reflect their experience.

Before liquor sales were privatized in Washington state in mid-2012, small local distilleries were featured in state-owned shops there and throughout the Northwest. Now, top craft distillers say national brands are hogging the shelf space in Washington, the biggest market in the region.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Local machinists narrowly approved Boeing’s “best and final” offer that guarantees assembly of the next 777 wide-body jet and the fabrication of the plane's carbon-fiber wing for the Puget Sound region.

Some 30,000 local machinists accepted the deal with a 51-percent vote, said International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers spokesman Jim Bearden late Friday.

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