Who’s the meanest person in New York City-area organized labor? The competition is tough, but the winner might be Roland Bedwell. On August 8, Bedwell, business manager for United Plant and Production Workers Local 175, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to attempting to shake down a nonunion paving contractor several years ago. The offense was part of a mobster-enforced union pattern of blocking work sites, assaulting workers and coaxing builders into awarding contracts to the Roslyn Heights (Long Island), N.Y. local. The plea follows a probe by the FBI, the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General and the NYPD. FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney Jr. remarked: “The subject in this case bragged he should be in prison for his crimes. Now that’s exactly where he’s headed.”
United Plant and Production Workers Local 175, an affiliate of the International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades (IUJAT), has a “bad boy” reputation in New York City-area contracting circles. Roland Bedwell, its business manager, always has seemed to be at the center of things. Back in October 2014, Lowell Barton, vice president of a rival union, Laborers International Union of North America Local 1010, filed a criminal complaint in Manhattan Supreme Court charging that Bedwell had accosted him at a Bronx paving project site, slammed Barton in the face with a hardhat and then warned him to stay away from job sites. “Local 175 was aware of and had express knowledge of Bedwell’s propensity for violent physical assaults and his ties to organized crime,” the suit read. Back in 2003, in fact, Bedwell and several friends founded Local 175 because they had been thrown out of LIUNA for their violence and terror threats.
Roland Bedwell has shown he’s every bit the thug when it comes to dealing with area contractors. According to federal prosecutors, Bedwell, now 57, a resident of Freeport, L.I., had put together a shakedown crew from hell. In a June 2013 conversation in a Queens restaurant, Bedwell threatened an unnamed contractor wearing a police wire (“John Doe 2”), telling him that he had a crew of 15 ex-military men, including Navy SEALs, to carry out his wishes. These men, he emphasized, were “animals” and were prepared to use violence. “They don’t like the idea, that, one, they’re home and this company’s working nonunion, and these men – who don’t even belong to this country – are taking their jobs and they don’t like it,” he said. “And they ain’t happy about it.” Bedwell also boasted about his union’s close ties to Gambino crime family capo Salvatore Franco and his son. These guys, said Bedwell, “take care of all the problems.”
This extortion attempt led a path to Bedwell’s guilty plea. According to court records, he warned the contractor that if he didn’t hire workers from Local 175, he would deploy his “ex-military” shakedown crew, none of whose members apparently feared any prison time. He told “John Doe 2” that by resisting, he stood to lose a “tremendous amount of money.” Bedwell told him: “Either you’re gonna sign the contract…or these boys are gonna do it again.” He also explained to the contractor a couple of the things that this shakedown crew had done to other contractors: blocking a delivery truck transporting trees (thus causing the trees to die) and stopping another truck loaded with asphalt, which caused a temporary shutdown of the Long Island Expressway. In particular, in 2011 the Bedwell crew showed up at a bank parking lot in Queens to terrorize the nonunion paving crew there. After one of the members kept slugging one of the workers, the subcontractor said that he would sign a union contract, which he though was just for that day. When he realized the contract was good for three years, the subcontractor refused to sign, whereupon Bedwell threatened to kill him.
As part of his guilty plea, Bedwell also admitted to another extortion attempt. He and a number of co-conspirators had told a contractor that he (the contractor) could forget about receiving asphalt deliveries at a job site at LaGuardia Airport unless he hired members of United Plant and Production Workers Local 175. The contractor refused to sign an agreement to that effect. Soon after, Bedwell and his motley crew blocked asphalt delivery trucks, slashed their tires and harassed the drivers. If the union refrained from inflicting destruction upon other contractors, it was only because they signed such “agreements.” In a secretly recorded conversation, Bedwell admitted that given all the things he had done, it was something of a miracle that he’d stayed out of prison. “I don’t know how I don’t have any felonies against me,” he wondered.
He no longer has to wonder. On August 8, Roland Bedwell pleaded guilty to extortion. He faces anywhere from 51 months to 63 months in prison at sentencing on November 2. Bedwell actually showed some remorse before U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis. “I knew my actions were wrong and illegal, and I am sorry, your honor,” he said. Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde isn’t all that impressed. “With references to organized crime and tough guys, Bedwell used his position as a labor union official to threaten business owners into hiring union members and paying them wages and benefits,” she said. “Today’s guilty plea holds Bedwell accountable for his actions and demonstrates the resolve of this office, and law enforcement partners, to ensure that businesses are able to make reasonable business decisions without fear of harm.” One hopes other members of the shakedown crew are held similarly accountable.