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WASHINGTON — The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and the American Plastics Council just got an early glimpse of how difficult their merger talks could be.

Members of SPI's Machinery and Moldmakers divisions were angered recently when their representative for the talks appeared to be rejected and SPI's officers selected someone else.

The upshot of several weeks of negotiations and a fax poll of SPI board members last week: Both Harold Faig, vice president of plastics machinery worldwide for Cincinnati Milacron Inc., and William G. Pryor, president of Van Dorn Demag Corp. — will sit on the merger task force, which will be expanded by one member.

The wrangling also reflects ``very strong disagreement philosophically with how to proceed with the talks'' and the shape of any successor to SPI, according to one SPI board member who spoke on condition of anonymity. ``We are trying to hold this thing together and move ahead.''

Sources on all sides said both Faig, favored by machinery and mold-maker interests, and Pryor, favored by SPI officers, are capable.

SPI Chairman H. Patrick Jack, senior vice president of chemicals at Fina Oil and Chemical Co., said he misunderstood that Faig was the top choice out of three names submitted at the SPI board meeting in January. He said he preferred Pryor of Cleveland-based Van Dorn because he has more board experience, and said all five officers supported Pryor.

``If there was any confusion, it clearly was on my part,'' Jack said.

An anonymous board member termed the dispute a ``misunderstanding'' that is ``not a big deal.''

SPI President Larry Thomas said machinery and mold-maker representatives recommended a ``specific individual'' — Faig — because they felt he had a ``passionate interest'' in the merger talks, although Thomas said a third name was considered, Jerry Lirette, president of D-M-E Co. of Madison Heights, Mich., a unit of Cincinnati Milacron Inc. of Cincinnati.

The SPI board members who responded to the poll unanimously approved adding another slot, SPI said.

SPI and APC officials said no timeline has been set for the merger task force, which will have 10 members.

SPI officials would not talk on the record about internal discussions on how to proceed on merger talks, but Jack said potentially thorny details remain to be worked out.For example, both SPI and APC agree in principle that the balance between SPI's three segments — processors, material suppliers and machinery companies — must be maintained, Jack said March 3. But what that means and how a new board should be structured have yet to be worked out, he said.

``Everyone is going to have priorities,'' Thomas said. ``I would feel uncomfortable if they didn't have strong priorities.''

Jack called the initial phase of the talks a feasibility study, asking, ``Is it possible to work this out?'' But he said odds are good the talks will be successful.

APC President Red Cavaney declined to talk about APC's view on maintaining that balance, saying instead it will be key for task force members to sit down and listen to each other's concerns.

``Right now, nobody has any preconditions of shape, form and structure,'' he said.

Jack said the merger task force needs to identify where members agree and disagree, but he said they ``have not identified the areas of discomfort.''

The organizations also confirmed members of the task force for the first time. The other SPI members will be: Arthur Goodsel, president of injection molder Huron Plastics Group Inc. of St. Clair, Mich.; John Michael, president of thermoformer Fabri-Kal Corp. of Kalamazoo, Mich.; Harry Ussery, president of injection molder Beacon Plastics Inc. of Greenville, S.C.; and Robert Valle, vice president and general manager of film extruder and blow molder American National Can Co. of Chicago.

The APC members will be Robert Gower, chairman of Lyondell Polymers Corp. of Houston; John Peppercorn, president of Chevron Chemical Co. in Houston; Whit Sadler, president and chief executive officer of Solvay Polymers Inc. in Houston; and Ron Yocum, chairman, president and CEO of Millennium Petrochemicals Inc. of Cincinnati, formerly Quantum Chemical Co.