Work is under way on Facebook’s new data center buildings in Prineville, and the multimillion dollar project is drawing criticism from a union that’s been left largely off the job.

The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 701 recently parked outside the construction site with a large banner that read, “Shame on Fortis for hiring a rat contractor.” Local 701, which covers heavy-equipment operators across Oregon, takes issue with the fact that general contractor Fortis Construction of Portland hired a Utah company to install structural steel, said Jim Anderson, business manager and financial secretary of Local 701. The Utah firm does not hire union labor, he said.

Calls to Fortis were referred to Weinstein PR, a public relations firm that represents Facebook and the general contractor. Amy Hunter of Weinstein said in an emailed statement, “We are strongly committed to local business and labor.”

The vast majority of contracts have been awarded, and more than 90 percent have gone to Oregon subcontractors, Hunter said. More than 80 percent of the value of the contracts has gone to union subcontractors, she said.

Bend Commercial Glass and Taylor Northwest are two local firms that are working on the Facebook buildings, according to a note posted on the data center’s Facebook page.

Facebook announced in December that it would add two more buildings to the Prineville data center, a project that represents hundreds of millions in capital investment. The equipment inside the buildings is expected to begin serving traffic in 2020 and 2021, according to Facebook’s announcement.

Hundreds of people are expected to work on the Facebook site over the next few months, but relatively few of them will operate cranes, forklifts and other equipment. Anderson said that if Fortis had hired an Oregon steel contractor, he might have 10 members working now. Fortis hired a union concrete-pumping firm, so there is one member of Local 701 on the site, he said.

The Facebook project is important to the union because it has recruited heavily for its apprentice program in Central and Eastern Oregon high schools, Anderson said. “In order for us to be able to train the aging workforce everyone talks about, we need to put journeypersons to work,” he said.

Local 701 has 400 members who live east of the Cascade mountain range, Anderson said, and they would like to have more work close to home.

The union had a bigger presence on past phases of Facebook’s Prineville data center, Anderson said. He speculated that the Utah firm, Sure Steel, which has worked on other data centers around the country, was hired because it’s not paying workers the same benefits, so its costs are lower.

“We have the most qualified people around,” Anderson said. “In Oregon, we haven’t had very many equipment accidents like they have in other parts of the country.”

Both data buildings are well under way, Hunter said. Crews are pouring concrete footings, erecting structural steel and installing underground utilities, she said. A “mountain” of excavated rock is being crushed and reused as backfill, she said.

—Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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