Koch retires as secretary-treasurer of Bakers Local 114

Laurel Koch, the first female business agent and secretary-treasurer of Portland-based Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Local 114, retired Nov. 10 after 35 years with that union.

A retirement dinner in her honor was held Nov. 12 at the Benson Hotel in downtown Portland. More than 115 people attended. Some of the speakers included Randy Roark, international vice president Region 6 of the Bakers Union; Steve Mayer, retired director of human resources at U.S. Bakery; Judy O’Connor, executive secretary-treasurer of the Northwest Oregon Labor, and Koch’s son, Steven, who showed a 10-minute film entitled, “The Life and Times of Laurel Koch.”

Koch, 59, has served in the top post of Local 114 since July 1992, succeeding Noel Johnson, who hired her as a business agent in 1982. Prior to that she worked for 13 years as a wrapper at Ruth Ashbrook Bakery. She joined her first union — Spokane-based Bakers Local 74 — in 1964 when she was hired at a local bakery after graduating from North Central High School.

Koch was born in Portland and raised in Avery, Idaho. Her family moved to Spokane when she was a teen-ager. She married in Spokane and soon after that the couple moved to Portland.

Seven months after Steven was born she divorced. As a single mom she went to work at Ruth Ashbrook Bakery in Portland.

It was at the bakery that she got involved in her union. “Things were happening (to co-workers) and nothing was being done about it,” Koch said.

She first volunteered for the safety committee and later became a shop steward. In July 1982 she was hired as a full-time business agent by then-Secretary-Treasurer Noel Johnson. She succeeded Johnson after he retired in 1992.

During her career, Koch served as a vice president of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, representing the Provision Trades Sector. She sat on the advisory board of the Labor Education and Research Center of the University of Oregon; was president for 12 years of the Northwest Joint Board of the BCTGM and nine years at secretary-treasurer of the Western Conference of the BCTGM.

“Local 114 covers a large geographic area — from Longview, Wash., to Klamath Falls,” said Terry Lansing, a business agent for Local 114 who succeeds Koch as secretary-treasurer. “Laurel always made sure everyone was treated the same, no matter where they lived.”

Koch represented Local 114 at international conventions as a member of the Committee of Committees, which assisted in committee assignments and looking at the union’s finances. She also was appointed by International President Frank Hurt as a representative to the International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Association. IUF conferences are held annually in Geneva, Switzerland. She served on the Women’s Committee.

Koch told the Northwest Labor Press that highlights of her career as secretary-treasurer of Local 114 was “improving each and every contract” and obtaining “Golden 80” language in retail contracts. The Golden 80 language gives members their full pension if their age and years of service equals 80 years or more. “We were able to get that in the 1997 contract,” she recalled.

Low points were the shuttering and/or downsizing of several bakeries, such as Wonderbread and the Beaverton Frito-Lay plant.

“This job is your life,” she said. “It takes a lot of hard work and patience.”

Over the years, Koch developed a reputation as an honest, hard-working union leader. “Laurel never compromised her union values,” said Mayer of U.S. Bakery. “I respect her so much. She’s changed me in how I look at things today.”

Koch said she tried to treat people with respect and consideration, “ the same way I would want to be treated. If you do that, most people reciprocate.”

In retirement, Koch will join her husband Bob, a former Portland City Commissioner and Portland Police officer, in completing construction of their home in Washougal. “It’s only been going on for 10 years now,” she said.

Local 114 will have an open house from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, at its office, 7931 NE Halsey, Suite 205, Portland.

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