The Shirley Ware Education Center

The Shirley Ware Education Center (SWEC) was founded by SEIU UHW-West (then SEIU Local 250) in 1998 with initial funding from the city of Oakland. Partnering with long-term care employers, SWEC provided needed training for new workers from Oakland’s low-income neighborhoods. In 2004, SEIU UHW-West & Joint Employer Education Fund (The Education Fund) was formed to provide education and training opportunities benefiting approximately 74,000 healthcare workers with 30 participating employers, including seven Long Term Care employers and six participating unions. SWEC has been integrated into the work of the larger Education Fund. The two organizations have overlapping directors. SWEC continues to seek grants to expand and broaden the work of the Education Fund.

Through SWEC, the Education Fund pursues funding to provide additional programs and training opportunities, including upgrade training for existing acute care workers, and LVN to RN training in Southern California. With grants from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, NIEHS, and the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA, SWEC has provided Health & Safety and Hazardous Materials training for healthcare workers throughout California.


Shirley Ware was one of the first African-American women to lead a major California labor organization. She dedicated her life to the cause of helping workers and their unions, serving as Secretary-Treasurer of the Health Care Workers Union SEIU Local 250 from 1988 until her death from cancer at age 57. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Shirley came to California with her family at a young age and settled in Oakland. She was schooled at Oakland’s Fremont High and Chabot Community College, where she earned certification as a Licensed Vocational Nurse. Taking a job in 1963 at an East Bay nursing home, Shirley quickly organized the facility into Local 250 and became a militant voice for fellow healthcare workers and their families. Shirley joined the staff of Local 250 in 1971, assuming a pioneering position as the first African-American woman field representative in the union’s history. Through the 1970’s and ’80’s, she represented workers in all facets of the healthcare industry, including Kaiser, nursing homes and hospitals, clinics and public hospitals.

Shirley rose to her top elected position in 1988 as part of the new Leadership Team of Local 250. As Secretary-Treasurer for 10 years, Shirley guided the union to financial health, managed a multi-million dollar budget and helped direct a staff of more than 100. She had a special talent for mentoring members, new and old, about the rich history and critical importance of unions. Shirley was an extraordinary teacher and a great woman who gave all she came in contact with the inspiration to change things for the better. Her memory is forever etched in the hearts and minds of all who knew her and her spirit lives on through the work of SWEC.