WASHINGTON - Prompted by members of its Composites Institute, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. may try to cut the dues of plastics processor members by up to 75 percent as part of the second major membership-building shakeup in three years. The goals of the newest restructuring effort include attracting a wider base of processors, directing dues to SPI's operating divisions, giving those divisions more autonomy and reshaping Washington-based SPI's board to reflect that autonomy.
``We need to find responsible ways to broaden our membership base,'' said SPI President Larry Thomas. ``Our dues issue has been and continues to be an impediment to getting large and middle-size processors into the association.''
Recent Composites Institute moves toward cooperation with the independent Composites Fabricators Association have helped propel the issue, as has lobbying from a Composites Institute subgroup, the SMC Automotive Alliance.
Asked if the outcome of the changes could result in the New York-based Composites Institute or any of its departments leaving SPI, institute staff director Catherine Randazzo said Oct. 16, ``It's too soon to tell.''
Randazzo also said that movement of institute offices to Washington is ``not under discussion.''
A special SPI task force met Oct. 15 in Chicago for the first time to review the dues structure and whether SPI's mission remains relevant to its increasingly independent-minded segments - especially those in composites.
The task force's formation was approved at an SPI board meeting held Sept. 25-27 in Washington. SPI Vice Chairman Harry Ussery described that meeting as the best-attended SPI board meeting ever.
A board member, Peter Bemis, executive vice president at custom injection molder Bemis Manufacturing Co. in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., described it as ``a lively, but professional discussion,'' including talk of a ``no-excuses dues structure.''
``There was some pretty open and candid conversation and I thought it was healthy,'' Bemis said.
Thomas also addressed a dues cut of as much as 75 percent for processors at the institute's annual meeting recently.
The Composites Institute already has had discussions about joining forces with the independent Composites Fabricators Association to put on a national convention. Though composites make up only a small part of the total plastics industry, the group is extremely significant to SPI.
Doug Barno, a consultant to the Composites Institute with the title of director of market development, said composites is the largest division of SPI, based on membership and activity. Thomas said the institute's 374 processor and supplier members make up 25 percent of SPI membership.
A group at the heart of the SPI/Composites Institute relationship is the SMC Automotive Alliance. The group, primarily injection and compression thermoset molders, includes some strong supporters of SPI and Thomas.
``SPI recognizes we're an effective organization,'' said SMCAA member Eldon Trueman, vice president of worldwide commercial development for Budd Co.'s Plastics Division in Troy, Mich.
The SMC group needs SPI for its lobbying prowess, he said.
``At the risk of sounding boastful, of all the groups in the composites area, SMC has been the most successful in getting a message out to its audience. We serve as a model for others within the composites group,'' he said.
Trueman, past chairman of the 8-year-old, Troy-based SMCAA, added: ``Our board is very pleased with Larry Thomas. Larry Thomas has listened and seems to be effectively responding to our needs. We feel like we've been listened to and listened to well.''
Trueman termed the possibility that composites members might bolt from SPI if their needs are not met as ``dangerous speculation.''
Representation of composites before Congress and federal agencies is another concern. John Tickle, president of Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Co. of Bristol, Va., and Composites Institute representative on the SPI board, wants a single voice for the composites industry.
That, said Tickle, means attracting the members of the Composites Fabricators Association, an Arlington, Va., association representing 2,000 in the composites industry. The composites industry needs a strong voice ``when we go to the bureaucrats in Washington,'' Tickle said.
``[CFA] can't do it, and we can't do it,'' he added.
A meeting of the Composites Institute and CFA is scheduled Oct. 29 to discuss bringing the groups' conventions together in 2000. A combined convention would host 5,000 attendees - 3,000 from the Composites Institute and 2,000 from CFA.
Another question for the same SPI task force concerns the need to improve the board structure to produce a board able to deal with national issues, yet allow autonomy for the respective divisions of the association, Thomas said.
SPI has faced some defections in recent years from processor members who were unhappy with the association's efforts to represent their views. Early this year, SPI closed its Vinyl Window & Door Institute in Washington after members defected to a rival group, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association.
And in late 1995, the Expanded Polystyrene Manufacturers Association was formed when some companies bolted from SPI's foamed PS unit. SPI's reformed group, the Foamed Polystyrene Alliance, remains in operation, an SPI spokeswoman said.
Thomas expects the task force options to be presented at the SPI board's January meeting.
``The framework of the task force is to push power away from Washington, D.C.,'' Ussery said.
He described as ``not on the table'' the question of whether the New York-based Composites Institute will vote to consolidate its offices with that of SPI in Washington.
The dues review is the second since 1994, when SPI cut dues to many processors by allowing them to subtract their costs for raw materials from their sales volume - allowing payment on a value-added basis. Previously, dues had been assessed on a sliding scale that considered only sales volume.
``Why does SPI represent only a small cross section of processors?'' asked Ussery, an ex-officio member of the task force.
The question has caused soul-searching among SPI leadership, he said.
``[Task force members] are looking at some of the shortcomings of SPI's agenda. They're asking, `Is SPI going to truly provide the venue to allow the Composites Institute to successfully represent its members?'''
The task force's job, according to members including Ussery, president of Beacon Plastics Inc., of Greenville, S.C., is to see what services can be provided to those who might pay less, and how the burden of dues might be shifted to larger members, to increase membership without costing the association money.
Bemis said he supports ``more local and regional services and products that have an appeal to to the processor community.''
Bemis was interviewed Oct. 16 at an SPI Midwest session on coinjection molding at Cincinnati Milacron Inc.'s Plastics Machinery Group in Batavia, Ohio.
Other SPI segments have discussed the dues issue. For example, it was a topic in Rosemont, Ill., earlier this month during the executive committee meeting of the Color and Additive Compounders Division.
Executive committee member Denise Holl said, ``We want them restructured to attract higher membership.''
Holl said members of the compounders division executive committee did not vote formally on the dues issue in Rosemont, but they do plan to discuss it at the division's main meeting. Holl is manager of safety and environmental issues at compounder Ampacet Corp. of Tarrytown, N.Y.