From her early days as a vocational nurse, to the moment she became the first Black organizer at Local 250 in 1971, to her 1988 election as secretary treasurer at the nation’s second largest healthcare union — Shirley Ware knew how to organize.
“It was a dream that I never thought would ever happen,” said Ware. “I never even dared to dream that you would have a woman leading a union this big. It just goes to show you that if you work hard enough and put your efforts there that you have a chance.”
Her work with Local 250 began in organizing at an East Bay nursing home where she started working as a vocational nurse in 1963. Ware needed a health plan to help care for her child who suffered a heart condition, but she was told by the nursing home’s management that “it was her problem because she had the child.” That sparked her involvement in Local 250 in 1964.
Just a few short years after joining the union as a member, Ware brought her organizing and advocacy strength to members throughout California when she became a member of the union’s staff.
“Organizing is the lifeblood of the union,” said Ware. “We need to have a strong steward system because, at the work site, we need to have a good collective bargaining agreement.”
Her contributions as an organizer did not go unnoticed by her colleagues. Neither did her constant mentorship or belief in the power of the political process.
In 1988, Ware was elected by her peers as secretary–treasurer of the union. During her four terms of service as secretary–treasurer, the union grew its membership by 20,000 members, and she was named Unionist of the Year by the Alameda Labor Central Labor Council in 1991.
Ware’s leadership in Local 250 was part of a turnaround effort for the union which, at the time, was coming through a bankruptcy, in trusteeship, and fresh off the heels of a contentious strike with Kaiser Permanente in 1986.
In 1998 Local 250, under the leadership of then President Sal Rosselli, formed the Shirley Ware Education Center to honor her legacy of leadership, mentorship, and her passion for education.
“Shirley dedicated her life to the cause of helping workers,” said Rosselli. “The tremendous gains for Local 250 came, in large part, through Shirley’s dedication, loyalty, and vision for our union. She had a remarkable ability to unify people toward common goals, toward providing quality care, and a safe, fair environment.”