By Susan Silvers
Post staff writer
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
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
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
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"
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."