Clifford Evans was working in a grocery store in his hometown of Guelph, Ontario in 1957 when he was recruited as a full-time organizer by the Retail Clerks International Union. He was then 19 years old. The union had 42 members in Ontario south of Thunder Bay and only 5,000 members in all of Canada, making it one of the smallest national affiliates of the Canadian Labour Congress. Thirty-five years later, when Evans retired as its Canadian Director, the United Food and Commercial Workers was Canada's largest private sector union, 185,000 strong. It has continued to grow since then. Evans retired as Director of International Operations of the International Union in July 1994.
UFCW Canada is the product of many union mergers over the years and, in most cases, Evans either initiated the merger or was instrumental in its success. But the remarkable growth of the union is mainly the result of its fervent organizing culture and no one is more responsible for developing and strengthening this focus than Clifford Evans. As leader of the union from 1969 onwards, Evans orchestrated hundreds of organizing drives, all across Canada, and instilled in the union's staff and local leadership the high levels of determination and skills they needed to achieve consistent success.
An extraordinarily astute and effective negotiator, Evans pioneered many things now taken for granted in UFCW Canada collective agreements and, of particular note, has done more at the bargaining table to protect and improve working conditions for part-time workers than any other leader of any other union in Canadian labour history.
Of his many achievements, two stand out as eloquent testimony to Clifford Evans' vision of how a union can better serve its members and improve their economic security. The first is the still-growing network of Local Union-operated Training Centres across Canada. These centres originated in Cambridge in the early 1980's when Evans negotiated the first-ever employer contribution to a UFCW Training Trust Fund. Over the years, tens of thousands of UFCW Canada members have improved their skills and advanced their careers through the free training they received at their Local Union's centre.
The second is the Canadian Commercial Workers Industry Pension Plan (CCWIPP), an idea of Evans' that has grown from its birth in 1979 to become the largest private sector pension fund in Canada. At last count, well over two-thirds of Canadian workers, full-time and part-time, are present or future beneficiaries of CCWIPP, a completely employer-paid pension plan.
One of Canada's great labour leaders of the 20th century, Clifford Evans was awarded the Order of Ontario in 1996 in recognition of his lifetime achievements and his many contributions to a better society.