Ashley Gross

Business and Labor Reporter

Ashley Gross is KPLU's business and labor reporter, covering everything from 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

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.

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."

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. 

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.

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.

Ashley Gross

Several hundred Boeing machinists and supporters gathered in a Seattle union hall Thursday to urge members to reject Boeing’s contract offer.

The rally came on the eve of a crucial vote on what Boeing has called its best and final offer. Acceptance of the labor deal by some 30,000 local machinists would guarantee 777 assembly work for the Puget Sound area.

But local union leaders are urging members to reject the offer, saying the workers are asked to make concessions even though the company is having a profitable run.

Cindy Hohlbein

Rex Hohlbein had been designing luxurious homes for more than two decades when his life began to shift.

He began inviting homeless people into the office of his architecture firm to warm up, use the bathroom and get a cup of coffee. Pretty soon, he found it hard to spend his days designing million-dollar homes when he was meeting so many people he found sleeping in tents or under a doorway.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story stated voting will take place on Jan. 3. However, according to a spokesman for the union's international headquarters, the exact date is still being finalized.

Local Boeing machinists will have a chance to vote on the company's "best and final" offer, the acceptance of which would guarantee assembly of the next 777 wide-body jet and the fabrication of the plane's carbon-fiber wing for the Puget Sound region.  

Ashley Gross

Tempers are running high among Boeing machinists as the company evaluates potential sites to build the next 777 jet. That became evident at a small rally outside the machinists' union hall in Everett Wednesday. 

Machinists who want to push their union leaders to let them vote on the company's last contract offer organized the rally and said about 80 people would show up. But they only drew about 40. That group marched to the union hall from the company's Everett factory chanting "Give us a voice!" About  a dozen counter-protesters arrived, yelling, "We already voted!"

The rally turned into a shouting match, with the two sides arguing about things like whether a 401(k) is a good retirement plan. One shouted that he suspected voter fraud in the union's November vote over Boeing's labor proposal.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

A Boeing worker in Renton has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the machinists union.

Timothy Limestall says local leaders of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers failed to provide enough information about Boeing’s contract extension offer that members voted on last month.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

Some Boeing machinists angry at their union leaders plan to ask for help from the National Labor Relations Board.

They’re upset that local leaders from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers turned down Boeing’s best and final offer without putting it to members for a vote. The offer would have secured assembly of the next 777 jet in Washington state along with the carbon-fiber wing fabrication. 

Boeing machinists in Washington state are trying to figure out whether they'll have a chance to vote on an offer the company made Thursday that would guarantee production of the 777X wide-body jet in the Puget Sound region. 

Reed Saxon / Associated Press

Boeing says its research and technology workforce in Washington state will probably shrink by as many as 1,200 jobs as the company shifts work to other states including Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina.

The news comes on a day when many people in Washington are waiting to hear whether Boeing will accept a preliminary contract proposal from the machinists’ union. The union is seeking to reach an agreement with the company that would guarantee production of the next 777 jet in the Puget Sound region, securing thousands of jobs.

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Sen. Patty Murray says the deal she reached with Republican Rep. Paul Ryan will spare Washington state residents from another round of across-the-board budget cuts—welcome news to researchers at the University of Washington.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The machinists’ union has presented a labor proposal to the Boeing Company, local union leaders said late Wednesday afternoon. 

The details of the proposal have not been released. The union made the announcement after an hours-long meeting with Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner and other company executives Wednesday, raising hopes that the two sides may strike an agreement to build the next 777 wide-body jet in the Puget Sound region.

“We tried to craft a proposal that would meet the needs of our members, while also ensuring the long-term success of the Boeing Co. in Washington state,” said Tom Wroblewski, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751, in a statement. The union said it expects a response from Boeing by Thursday.