A well-known local organizer whose ordeal as a Santa Monica hotel worker fueled the efforts of union advocates has died.

Delmy Elizabeth Falla passed away Monday, according to loved ones and colleagues. Details regarding the cause of death were not immediately available.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday at Continental Funeral Home, 13806 Hawthorne Blvd., in Hawthorne. She is survived by her children, family and friends.

Falla, who became a union leader after working as a housekeeper at what is now the Fairmont Miramar hotel, was remembered as a passionate champion of labor rights.

“Delmy is one of the most heroic workers and people I’ve ever worked with,” said Kurt Petersen, an organizing director with Unite HERE Local 11 who was Falla’s colleague at HERE Local 814. “Every gain that Santa Monica hotel workers have won in the last couple decades is, in large part, due to her standing up at the Miramar.”

Falla was thrust into the spotlight after being fired in 1996 by what was then known as the Miramont Sheraton. She had been accused of shoving a camera in a security guard’s face.

The hotel was eventually ordered by a National Labor Relations Board panel to reinstate Falla and give her back pay, but she was terminated again shortly thereafter for allegedly disrupting a hotel staff meeting after being fired the first time.

Falla’s case exemplified what labor supporters believed was a campaign by the Wilshire Boulevad hotel to suppress union organizing.

“Delmy was the embodiment of the worker courage that cemented me to the living-wage movement almost 20 years ago,” City Council member Kevin McKeown said. “She willingly and bravely put her job and her life on the line to gain respect and dignity, not just wages and job security, for working families in Santa Monica.”

Following an ownership change at the Miramar, Falla was hired back again in 2000 and welcomed at a contract-signing ceremony that also featured hotel management personnel and union officials.

“It’s so exciting,” Falla said at the time. “I finished something I started.”

Falla soon left her job in housekeeping to take on a leadership role with the union, hoping to improve wages and conditions for other area hotel workers. She mobilized people with warmth and compassion, Petersen said.

“She was amazing,” he said. “People loved her. She was a leader in the community. Everyone knew Delmy. She was probably about 5-4 and 110 pounds, but she had the power of a giant.

“Every dollar, every improvement in health insurance and safety rules, they’re from Delmy’s efforts. She was one of the most important people in the history of the last 30 years in Santa Monica.”

In February 2001, Falla led a protest outside the Loews hotel during an American Film Market convention as union organizers and supporters advocated for better treatment of workers.

At one point, according to a news report about the protest, Falla stood in front of a motorist who continued driving forward as marchers passed in front of the Chrysler LeBaron. Falla was hit and ended up on the hood of the car.

Two months later, Falla spoke as a panelist at Santa Monica College as part of a campus group’s seminar on labor issues. She urged students to join her union’s picket lines and get a better understanding of employees’ concerns.

“This fight is not just for workers,” she said at the time, according to the Corsair student newspaper. “It’s for everybody.”

jeff@smdp.com

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