The Shirley Ware Education Center

The Shirley Ware Education Center (SWEC) has been providing education and training to community members and health care workers since its formation in 1998 by SEIU-UHW West with initial funding from the City of Oakland. SWEC integrates its work with the SEIU-UHW West & Joint Employer Education Fund (the Education Fund). From its inception through to today, SWEC raises grants from public and private foundation sources to further this purpose.

Both SWEC and the Education Fund share identical Boards, jointly governed by labor and employee representatives. Rebecca Hanson serves as Executive Director of both organizations. See our Leadership page for current Board of Trustees and staff leadership.

Honoring the Legacy of Shirley Ware

For over 25 years, the Shirley Ware Education Center (SWEC) has been a beacon of learning, enriching countless lives through education. Named after powerhouse union leader Shirley Ware, SWEC commemorates her legacy and continues its vital work alongside the SEIU-UHW & Joint Employer Education Fund. Join us in celebrating Shirley Ware’s remarkable legacy and the transformative impact of education.


Shirley WareShirley Ware (1941-1998) 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 attended 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.

Recent Grants

Employment Training Panel – High Skill Training

Created in 1982 by the California State Legislature, the Employment Training Panel provides funding to assist in upgrading the skills of incumbent workers through training that leads to high quality jobs. Beginning December 2021, the Shirley Ware Education Center was awarded $1.1 million to support the development of trainings for 312 Medical Assistants, LVNs, Radiology Techs and Surgical Techs based in California. This remains a key opportunity to leverage a previously untapped public funding source to support our career advancement training.

H-CAP Department of Labor Closing the Skills Gap Apprenticeship Grant

Approximately $240,000 will serve 144 registered apprenticeships from across the Education Fund’s full population of eligible members over a 4-year period. Apprenticeships supported through this grant include Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Tech, Sterile Processing, Medical Assistant, Surgical Tech, Medical Coder and several others. As part of H-CAP’s national consortium of education and training associations, the Education Fund is supporting the broader effort of H-CAP through this grant work.

HRTP 3.0 WIOA – Capacity-Building for Career Pathways

This two-year grant consists of $1 million in federal funding providing funding for six Education Fund staff positions that support the development and promotion of our Pathway programs in California. These positions will be responsible for collaborating with stakeholders to identify workforce needs, recruiting education providers, and creating promotional materials.

HRTP Resilient Workforce General Fund (RWF) Program – Expanded Partnerships to Promote Healthcare Career Pathways

$10 million to be paid over 3 years. This funding is specifically tied to working with our new partners – SEIU 521, SEIU 1021, and public sector employers in Santa Clara, San Francisco and Kern Counties. It will allow the Education Fund to work with both labor and management to identify workforce needs and gaps, and establish career pathways, tuition support, registered apprenticeships and supportive services to move incumbent workers into those open positions. In the immediate term, this project will serve workers who do not have Education Fund benefits in their current union contract through grant funding, while our teams plan for longer-term sustainability of services with new partners through expanded employer contributions.

Tipping Point Community​

This $250,000, one-year grant, is a companion grant to our High Road Training Partnerships funding that supports the expansion of our partnerships. This Bay Area-specific funding will allow us to support our work with SEIU 521, SEIU 1021, Santa Clara and San Francisco Counties. Funding will pay for tuition support and career pathway programming and will spur the development of partnerships with high quality community colleges in the Bay Area.

James Irvine Foundation Better Careers Grant 2.0​

This California specific grant will award the Education Fund $600,000 over the course of two years, beginning February 2023. The James Irvine Foundation is committed to engaging low-wage workers in California and strengthening the capacity of grantees to improve conditions for workers across the state and in key regions. We will use the grant funds to contribute to tuition support and career pathways – specifically by supporting workers in entry-level and lower-wage positions.

HRTP Resilient Workforce General Fund (RWF) Program – Comprehensive Approach to Meet Critical Healthcare Shortages​

At $12 million, this is the largest grant received in the history of the Shirley Ware Education Center. Beginning June 2023, this funding will support 775 learners in all regions of California. Pathways supported by this grant include Laboratory, LVN, Respiratory Therapy, RN to BSN, and Sterile Processing. Apprenticeships supported by this grant include Medical Coder, Optical Dispenser, Orthopedic Tech, Sterile Processing, and Surgical Tech. Funding will also support our Tuition Support program and wages for participants in our Member2Member program. This crucial funding will allow our teams to continue to respond to the unprecedented level of demand that we experienced during the pandemic, and will be instrumental in scaling up the programs that produce the strongest outcomes for our stakeholders.