Laborers Chief Passes 'Family Gloves' On

By Susan Silvers
Post staff writer

Dec.8, 1983

Back when Jack Sharkey was the heavyweight champion, Ermin Nobili got into a fight with another youngster on the city's East Side.

"I did a hell of a job on him," Nobili said. Such a good job, he recalled, that his friends dubbed him "Sharkey."

In the years since, Nobili's fights have been decidedly more verbal.

As business manager for Local 665 of the Laborers' International Union of North America, a position he assumed after the death of his father in 1951 Nobili has taken on management and even representatives of other unions that make up the building trades. The issues have included everything from salaries to union jurisdiction.

But this month, even those battles are coming to an end.

"Sharkey" Nobili is retiring and passing on the family gloves, so to speak, to a third generation, his son Ronald.

"I was only 28 years old and I didn't know a lot," Nobili said, recalling his career I labor activities. "What I did have in my favor was a lot of construction work at the time."

The early years of Nobili's leadership in the union were good ones for the construction industry in Fairfield County, as Connecticut grew in the years after World War II.

The local's membership grew from 1,200 to 1,700. Jobs abounded with construction projects at Beardsley Terrace, the University of Bridgeport and Fairfield University.

"Now we're down to 525," he said, noting that the jobs that once provided bread and butter for unskilled laborers in Bridgeport are no longer as plentiful. Modern equipment has made hod carrying a thing of the past, and the pace of activity in the area simply does not support as many workers, he explained.

His career has spanned a period when hourly wages for laborers have risen about 10-fold from $1.25 an hour and Nobili says he has seen both union membership and management become more demanding.

"The people that were joining the union many years ago--most of them were immigrants from Italy or Portugal--were just happy to get a job in the country," he said, reflecting on the changes in the nature of the membership. But today's workers, he said, know there are many government agencies to fall back on and do not view laborers' jobs as a last resort.

And higher wages, he said, have brought higher expectations from managers, who expect correspondingly more efficient work.

Despite the changes in the composition of the work force over the years, Nobili said the Laborers' Union has retained its ethnic and heavily male flavor.

Two women who joined have left, he said. and oddly, the union has not attracted many members of racial minorities, despite their prominence in Brdgeport.

"They haven't been coming in," he said, although he said more prospective members from minorities had come by lately.

Despite the Laborers' Union tradition in the Nobili household, "Sharkey" did not intend to succeed his father. He dreamed of becoming a carpenter but actually opted for factory work after graduating from Harding High.

But found he hated staying indoors, and chose to join the Laborers' local after all. In a union heavily populated by Italians and Portuguese who cherished family, traditions, he was a natural choice for the business manager's post when his father died.

And how does he feel about the fact that his own Ronald, is taking over as business manager, making him the third Nobili to hold the post in 43 years?

"I don't like it," "Sharkey" said.

Ticking off a list of union worries., which include prefabrication, subcontracting, non-union competition, and proposed changes in legislative protection for unions, he added: "I know what he's in for."

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