When the New York City Bagel-Bakers’ Union Took on the Mafia—and Won

Jan. 10 2020

By the 1960s, virtually all of the more than 300 bakers in New York City’s bagel shops belonged to Local 338 of the Bakery and Confectionary Workers, which maintained closed shops and contracts favorable to workers. But then a mobster named Giovanni Ignazio Dioguardi—known as Johnny Dio—who had spent the past few years enriching himself by meddling in the kosher hot-dog business, decided to take on bagels. Jason Turbow describes what followed:

In 1966, a man named Ben Willner started the W&S Baking Corporation in the Bronx. Not only was he determined to run a non-union bagel shop, but he was among the first to embrace what would, over time, become 338’s most pressing issue: automation. . . . With [a mechanical bagel roller], Willner began pumping out more bagels in a shorter time with one unskilled worker than a traditional shop using a union-approved team of four; this allowed Willner to undercut his competitors’ prices substantially. With his bakery location sufficiently north of Local 338’s area of operations, he mostly flew under the union’s radar.

Dio soon showed up at the bakery to bandy about his wholesaling leverage—namely, the ability to get supermarket buyers to bend to his whim under threat of labor unrest. Before long, W&S bagels were being stocked on shelves around the city, and the bakery prospered.

Except that Willner’s weren’t the only mobbed-up bagels in town. In 1964, a shop called Bagel Boys had opened in the center of Jewish New York, on King’s Highway in Brooklyn. Among its principals was Thomas Eboli, otherwise known as Tommy Ryan, a capo in the Genovese crime family and a direct counter to Dio. Eboli was so powerful, in fact, that when Vito Genovese died a few years later, Eboli reigned for a time as the family boss.

Dio may have been a capo [as well], but his Lucchese-family backing was no match for the Genoveses. . . . Inevitably, W&S went out of business, with Willner’s machines ending up at Bagel Boys in clear violation of the union mandate. This was a problem. Eboli, with the Manhattan mafia behind him, made the concerns about Dio seem puny by comparison. A fight was in the offing. The main question was whether—and how—to enjoin it.

Ultimately, the union handled the mafia the same way that it handled nearly all extreme issues with management: full public confrontation. Nearly as soon as Bagel Boys opened its doors, Local 338 members showed up en masse to picket, distributing leaflets headlined, “PLEASE DON’T BUY,” with warnings that non-union bagels “jeopardize the hard-won standards of labor and inspection which the New York City public now enjoy.” Their most effective tactic in such situations was handing out free product in quantities sufficient to devastate business. It worked.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Grub Street

More about: Jewish food, Mafia, New York City

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship