Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obituary: John T. 'Sonny' Shannon / President of pressmen's union during 1992 strike

Wednesday, December 09, 2009
By Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On the first day of the newspaper strike against The Pittsburgh Press in 1992, the words of John T. "Sonny" Shannon Jr. proved prophetic.
"We'll watch this paper die," he shouted to the crowd of strikers outside of the newspaper office Downtown.

Mr. Shannon, who graduated high school and followed his father and uncles into the press room at The Pittsburgh Press in 1968, was president of the pressmen's local when the drivers at the paper initiated the strike. In that role, he found himself leading the charge that ultimately drove the The E.W. Scripps Co., the corporate owner of The Pittsburgh Press, out of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Shannon died Monday afternoon in his home in Brighton Heights from throat cancer. He was 59.

He was known as a tough negotiator. During the Press strike of 1992, he swore the unions would not fold, and they didn't.
"The company underestimated us," said Mr. Shannon's brother, Patrick Shannon of Ross, who was the business agent for the pressman's union at the time.

Jack Shea, the executive director of the Allegheny County Labor Council, said Mr. Shannon cared deeply not just about the members of his union, but about everyone involved in a labor battle.

After months of failed negotiations with Scripps, Mr. Shea noted that the Block family -- the owners of Block Communications Inc., which bought The Press and folded it into the Post-Gazette -- was able to sit down and negotiate a contract with all of the unions in 30 days.

John Robinson Block, the publisher of the Post-Gazette, told a story of those negotiations, which were being conducted in a local hotel. The company's negotiators were working just about around the clock going from meetings with one union to the next. At one point, Mr. Shannon and the team from the pressmen's union were told they would have to wait for a bit after their scheduled time because negotiations were wrapping up with another group.Mr. Shannon and his team waited in the hotel bar and then had to reschedule those negotiations themselves."He was an effective leader of the pressmen's union and diligently advocated their interests," Mr. Block said.

After newspaper strike ended in January 1993, Mr. Shannon's talents were recognized by the international union, the Graphics Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which hired him as a negotiator. Though the union is based out of Washington D.C., Mr. Shannon still lived in Pittsburgh.In his new role, he sat across the table from the management of newspapers across the country.

His brother, Patrick Shannon, said there was never another strike like the Press strike because, in that case, it was a matter of workers fighting corporate greed. In recent years, it was Mr. Shannon's duty to tell union members that their companies were losing money.
Despite having been diagnosed with cancer last year, Mr. Shannon was able to work up until just a couple of months ago, representing workers at bargaining tables.

In addition to his brother, he is survived by his wife, Loren Renee; one son, Jack of Brighton Heights; a daughter, Sonny Leigh of Brighton Heights; his brother, Michael of Mars; two sisters, Charlotte of Hampton and Jacquelyn Boggs of Schenley; two grandsons and two granddaughters.

Visitation will be 2 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at T.B. Devlin Funeral Home, 806 Perry Highway, Ross. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9:30 Friday at St. Peter Church, 720 Arch St., North Side. Burial will be in North Side Catholic Cemetery in Ross.

Memorial contributions can be made to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Medical and Health Sciences Foundation, 200 Lothrop St., Suite 8084, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.

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