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WASHINGTON — The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. plans to put a $10,000 cap on dues for processors and allow members to shift up to one-third of their core dues to the organization's business units.

The moves are part of a restructuring designed to boost processor membership and give business units more authority.

The plan, approved by the board at its Jan. 24 meeting and announced Jan. 29, is designed to help the organization be more flexible and active at the state and regional level, where regulatory activity and economic development issues are becoming more important, said SPI President Larry Thomas.

SPI also said it has formed a merger task force with the American Plastics Council to explore unification of the two groups. The task force, which was unanimously approved by the board, will have three or four SPI processors and one machinery/mold-maker representative, along with APC's four officers. SPI officials would not provide additional details.

The dues cut and restructuring will help SPI be ``sensitive to the needs of the industry and able to respond to those needs through specialized programs,'' Thomas said. ``Giving our business units greater autonomy will provide that flexibility and improve service.''

SPI spokesman Jack LaCovey said the restructuring will not give the business units any more explicit powers within the governing structure of SPI than they have now, but may give them more resources as members shift money.

Under the new dues structure, processors pay $250-$10,000, based on company sales. Previously, processors paid $250-$164,000. About 10 percent of U.S. processors are members of SPI, Thomas said.

Thomas would not discuss the financial impact of the cut, or estimates of how many additional companies might join SPI. But he said ``we are confident that we will be at least revenue neutral'' in the short term and have a positive impact later.

The new dues schedule will be phased in, applying to new processor members March 1 and to current members in June 1998.

The restructuring will give SPI's 28 business units responsibility for their budgets and staffing, areas previously administered through SPI's core budget. Thomas said SPI will work with the units to ``see that they are as comfortable as possible.''

Those responsibilities, along with the ability of members to designate one-third of the core dues to specific units, will not take effect until June 1998, SPI said.

SPI has tried before to tinker with dues to lure processors. In 1994, the trade association cut dues by allowing many processors to subtract their raw materials costs from their sales volume. That replaced the former system that calculated dues based on sales volume only, figured according to a sliding scale.

Thomas discussed the prospects of a major dues cut last year at a Composites Institute annual meeting. Although composites represent a small part of the total plastics industry, the New York-based Composites Institute accounts for 25 percent of SPI membership.

In the wake of some processor-member defections from SPI in recent years — notably vinyl window makers leaving for the rival American Architectural Manufacturers Association, and the formation of the Expanded Polystyrene Manufacturers Association by former SPI members — there has been some speculation about the future direction of the Composites Institute.

But Catherine Randazzo, Composites Institute executive director, said the CI is not planning to pull out of SPI.

``Overall, the CI is very happy with SPI,'' she said in a Jan. 27 interview during the institute's annual convention, the International Composites Expo '97 in Nashville, Tenn.

Her comments were made two days before SPI formally announced the results of its January board meeting.

Randazzo said Composites Institute leaders are very interested in how SPI will be restructured.

``It's a matter of more control over resources,'' she said.

SPI board member John Tickle, president of Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Co. of Bristol, Va., said pressure from the Composites Institute was a factor, but not a ``major factor,'' in the restructuring.

Thomas said the restructuring is unrelated to the Composites Institute and continues efforts begun several years ago to attract processors.

Plastics News senior reporter Bill Bregar also contributed to this story.