Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

Currently: 74° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

CLAUDE “BLACKIE” EVANS: 1935-2007

Born: Nov. 26, 1935, Duenweg , Mo.

Occupation: Labor leader - Nevada Industrial Commission representative for labor, appointed by Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, 1971-78; secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO 1978- 99.

Residence: Henderson, 54 years

Died: Sept. 28, 2007, in Henderson

Services: 3 p.m. Friday at Palm Mortuary, 7600 Eastern Ave.

Survivors: Wife of 54 years, Carolyn; son, Steven of Las Vegas; three daughters, Cheree of Reno and Seanna and Lisa, both of Henderson; and four grandchildren

Donations: To the Arnold-Jones-Evans Scholarship Fund, 1701 Whitney Mesa Drive, Henderson , NV 89014

As the state's most powerful union leader in the 1980s and '90s, Claude "Blackie" Evans had great discipline organizing work forces by the thousands and haggling with management for the best deal for the working man.

But for all of his strengths, the farm boy and Golden Gloves boxing champion from Missouri who served seven terms as secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO had one glaring weakness - a desire for heaping helpings of country cooking.

In the end, overindulgence brought on diabetes, shortened Evans' sterling career and contributed to his death Friday at his Henderson home. He was 71.

"It's ironic that my father used to say, 'More often than not , poor management in the workplace does its organizing for you,' " said Steven Evans, a state hearings officer.

"Although he tried to manage his diabetes a little better later in life, he could not shake eating habits he developed as a boy, when he consumed 15,000 calories then burned 15,000 calories working on the farm. The pork chops were still on his plate and he was always a beans and corn bread kind of guy."

Nevada Archivist Guy Rocha chuckled as he recalled that Evans' great appetite was as legendary as his hard work and unselfish dedication to union activities. Evans was one of Nevada's three most significant post-World War II union leaders, Rocha said.

He likened Evans to venerable Laborers Union boss James "Sailor" Ryan, now in his 90s and living in North Las Vegas, and former longtime Labor Commissioner Stan Jones, in his 80s and residing in Reno.

"They are the triumvirate of Nevada labor," Rocha said.

"Blackie had the stereotypical look of a union leader - tough and gruff. He also had a certain pragmatism - a willingness to compromise when he needed to. He just wanted to get a bigger piece of pie for the workers , and in doing so he left his imprint on modern Nevada labor history."

Evans hitchhiked to Southern Nevada in 1953 with little or no intention of joining a union, much less becoming one of its most influential leaders. He wanted to get a job at the old Thunderbird hotel-casino, where his uncle worked. Instead, Evans , 17, lied about his age to get a job at Titanium Metals at the BMI plant, which had a minimum hiring age of 18.

Initially, Evans refused to pay the $3 monthly union dues, but reluctantly joined the union to help get a promotion.

"At first he didn't know what the union was because he was just a young cow-milker," said Jake Madill, a longtime friend and a steelworker at Titanium Metals for 36 years. "But things were happening on the job that Blackie didn't think were right, so he learned about the union and he learned real quick. He cared about people. He wanted to make things better."

Evans, who got his nickname from his dark complexion and wavy black hair , which later turned white, became a shop steward. Within months, he was elected vice president of United Steelworkers of America Local 4856.

In 1961 he became president of that union and four years later settled a 62-day strike at Titanium Metals, securing a then-unheard-of cost-of-living salary increase, which laid the groundwork for the company paying what today is among the highest wages in the industry.

Evans called that negotiation his greatest labor victory.

Evans acknowledged that his overindulgence at the dining table and diabetes caused him to end his labor career early.

Evans spent his retirement in and out of hospitals , where, his son said, he was "the worst patient." But after giving his caregivers fits, Evans would apologize by giving them restaurant gift cards, Steven Evans said.

Days after being released from his most recent hospital stay in September, Evans got up during the night, fell and died from what his family learned was a massive heart attack.

Evans' regrets in life were few. Among them, he had not learned to speak Spanish, he had endorsed a few bad candidates and, at times, he had neglected his children because of his job. He made no apologies for his appetite, nor for enjoying a Bloody Mary each night before bedtime.

"It has been a hell of a ride and I have no regrets about the things I did to help the workers, who were always my first concern," Evans told the Sun for a 1999 story. "I never hesitated to open my mouth and be blunt. I was too darn dumb to lie and I was clean as a hound's tooth."

archive