Remarks of R. Thomas Buffenbarger National Business Aviation Association on October 20, 2009

Remarks of R. Thomas Buffenbarger
National Business Aviation Association
October 20, 2009

Click here to hear the audio.

Thank you, Ed Bolen, for that kind introduction and your friendship.

I welcome this chance to speak to the National Business Aircraft Association. It’s not often that a labor leader is invited to speak to a business audience.

In NORMAL TIMES, we face each other across a negotiating table or picket line.

We do battle over every dime and every dollar in every contract.

We use every tool in our well-stocked tool boxes to prevail at the end of the day.

And we instinctively go for the jugular — you do, we do, we all do — because that’s the law of the adversarial jungle we inhabit in normal times.



Your companies are fighting to survive.

My union is fighting to stem the rising tide of joblessness.

And our great country is fighting to recover from the worst economic disaster in eighty years.    

So we have a choice.

We can fight our separate fights for survival.

OR, OR — we can fight together as a team … for the survival of this industry … and its workforce.

I hope that — for all our sakes — that we decide to fight together as a team.

So, here’s where I am coming from.

Over 90,000 IAM members work in the aerospace industry. Over 70,000 IAM members work in the air transportation sector.

I am fully — and PAINFULLY — aware of the challenges facing each one of you in this grave recession.



The Machinists Union is part and parcel of the business aircraft industry.

And like this industry, IAM members are experiencing a “ton of pain” with more in the pipeline.

Over 30,000 of our members are now unemployed, almost half of them once were unemployed by the companies represented in this room.

I want those men and women back on the job.

I want them building airplanes again.

And I know you do too.

The men and women in this room take great pride in the planes they produce.

And so do the Machinists.

PRIDE IS something we have in common.

PRIDE in our planes.

PRIDE in our workmanship.

PRIDE in our joint success.

I flew here on Eleven Alpha Mike – a Lear 60.

I am PROUD of our jet.

I am damn PROUD of the fact that IAM members built it.

I am PROUD that IAM members maintain and pilot it.

And I am PROUD of the millions of miles that jet has flown … to every state in this union … every province in Canada … and more than twenty-five nations around the globe.

You see, in the Machinists Union, having an efficient way to visit with our members is vital to our success.

I am in the air 250 or more days a year.

This past year, I opened negotiations with companies like Boeing in Seattle, Washington, Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth, Texas and Raytheon in Tucson, Arizona.

I walked picket lines in communities like Moncure, North Carolina, Portland, Oregon, Wichita, Kansas and Enid, Oklahoma.

I flew to IMF meetings in Sweden and Germany – that’s the GOOD IMF, the International Federation of Metal Workers which represents 25 million workers globally.

Last year, Eleven Alpha Mike flew to Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, California, Washington and Illinois to promote America’s Edge: Our Skills, Our Kids. Seven states in 96 hours.

I have traveled to Labor Day events – Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – five states in less than 72 hours – to rally our members.

Could I have used commercial flights to meet those tight schedules?

Not really.

They don’t always fly where I need to go, when I need to be there, and with a quick return flight scheduled.

They often don’t have connections to the smaller communities where our members live and work.

And they are never as cost-effective as Eleven Alpha Mike.

Time is money — and that is a hard fact of life for both business and labor.

In these days of heightened security, even an hour long commercial flight can become a three to four hour time commitment.

If I were a lawyer — and thank God that I am not — those extra hours would be billed to some client, some where.

But for most business travelers, standing in security lines, sitting near gates, emplaning, deplaning, picking up luggage and hailing a cab — well, it’s just money down the drain.

Oh, I know what the public image of business jets is: fancy toys for fat cats.

I watched Members of Congress play GOTCHA with General Motors executives.

I watched Senators grandstand on the use of business jets.

I watched as the President of the United States took shots at this industry.

And then, I watched as thousands Machinists Union members were laid off because the politicians wanted to score some points at our expense.

Well, I’ve got some advice for those paragons of public virtue … those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

The congressman who nailed General Motors flew a private jet into Washington that very day.

The senators who climbed up on their soapboxes to decry business jets didn’t bat an eye as they climbed aboard one to fly off to their next fundraiser.

And the President — well, let’s just say he owes us a visit to Wichita and leave it at that for a few minutes.

Frankly, this industry is too vital to America’s success to allow the anger, passion and provocations of the moment to last.

We — as a team — need to keep hammering away at some very basic facts.

  • Business aviation supports more than one point two million jobs in the United States!
  • Its combined payroll exceeds 53 billion dollars each year.
  • And business aviation generates more that 150 billion dollars in economic output each year.
  • Business aviation manufacturers added 5.9 billion dollars to America’s export revenue last year – producing one of the few positive signs in our trade balance.

Those are impressive numbers.

But numbers are not the life blood of this industry. People are.

Let us not forget just how impressive our people really are.

Let’s use our political and economic clout.

Let’s put our muscle and manpower where our money flows.

Each year, the business aircraft industry spends …

  • 18 billion dollars in California
  • 11 billion dollars in Texas
  • 7.5 billion  in Florida
  • 8.7 billion in Georgia
  • 6 billion dollars in Pennsylvania
  • Another 6 billion dollars in Illinois
  • 7 billion in Kansas
  • 9.3 billion dollars in New York

Let’s work to get the highest levels of our government to speak one little truth:


Let’s team up to get those eight words in the next State of the Union Address — OR — its rebuttal.

I’ve started our campaign.

Back in September, when President Barack Obama appeared before the AFL-CIO Convention in Pittsburgh, I used my one opportunity — and a very brief opportunity at that — to invite him to see the man-made devastation in Wichita.

He said that the White House would get back to me.

The Machinist Union is pressing hard for that visit.

And with your help, I believe we CAN make that visit happen.

As part of a team, you and I CAN make that happen.

We can get the White House to make that fact-finding mission.

And here’s how:

Before you leave here today, I want you to dial 202-546-1414.

That’s the White House switch board.

I am asking you to call 202-546-1414.

Leave a message for Rahm Emanuel, the Chief of Staff.

Make it brief.

Make it business-like.

But make it clear that, as a member of the National Business Aviation Association, you believe it is imperative that President Barack Obama visit Wichita.

Make it clear to him that the fate of this uniquely American industry hangs in the balance.


Again, the number is 202-456-1414.

The White House switchboard is waiting for your call.

That’s step one.

Step two is getting those eight words into the next State of the Union Address — or its rebuttal.

What were those words again?

Write them down.


That will take a little more team work.

All those states I mentioned a few minutes ago – the one’s where this industry spends more than six billion dollars a year – well, the governors and senators of those states should receive a visit from our team.

After Thanksgiving and before Christmas, the White House speech writers will be busy crafting that State of the Union Address.

We need those big state governors and senators to drop a brief note to Jonathan Favreau, President Barack Obama’s Director of Speechwriting.

He is the youngest person to serve in that capacity. And he is an accomplished writer and is credited with popularizing “YES WE CAN.”

But there’s one other thing you should know about Jon Favreau.

According to his Wikipedia profile, he is “afraid of flying.”

So we have our work cut out for us.

But if we work together …

If we work those big state goverors hard …

And, if we work the two senators from those states …

Then we should be able to get eight little words into that speech.

And, in the immortal words first crafted by Jon Favreau …




Thank you.