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The restructuring announced Jan. 29 by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. reflects the care taken by the association not to undermine its status as the industry's preeminent trade group.

It is within the framework of such concern that SPI has agreed to form a task force with the American Plastics Council to examine ways the two organizations can unify. It's a major move.

Similarly, the cut in dues and shifting of as much as one-third of membership core fees to individual business units suggest understandable concern about ensuring organizational integrity. That point was addressed clearly by an SPI spokesman, who noted that the reallocation of funds won't give the 28 business units greater powers within the organization's governing structure.

Dues, based on company sales, will be capped at $10,000 for processors, down from a high of $164,000. Larry Thomas, SPI's president, said the revised fee schedule will take effect March 1 for new processor members and apply to current members in June 1998.

Thomas declined to discuss the impact of the dues cut other than to say it will be at least ``revenue neutral'' in the short term and positive in the longer term. Presumably he is banking on the reduction to attract new members.

He may be right: In a Plastics News fax poll of processors in December, more than half said a large dues cut would convince them to join SPI. Another 26 percent said a cut would not convince them to join, and about 21 percent said they already are SPI members.

The nonprofit SPI faces some complex internal and external issues. Its diverse membership represents different industry segments. They all do not line up on a number of matters.

APC, on the other hand, has a homogeneous constituency — large resin suppliers — that can come to a consensus on most issues. APC initially focused on solid waste issues and on changing the public's image of plastics. But the crisis that gave rise to APC seems to have passed, and it makes sense for the plastics industry to speak again on major issues with one voice.

At the same time, SPI's plan to give its individual business units more funding seems to recognize that the plastics industry has many voices. That fact is evidenced by the rapid growth of statewide and regional processor groups.

Since each of the industry stakeholders has self-preservation in mind, the argument for doing things together rather than separately supports unification. The devil, of course, is in the details.