WASHINGTON — Talks that could have merged the plastics industry's two largest trade groups, the American Plastics Council and the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., have collapsed in an apparent dispute over leadership.
The months-long negotiations broke off because SPI negotiators favor current SPI President Larry Thomas for the top slot of a combined organization, while APC wants the leadership question kept open, according to SPI officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
SPI negotiators told APC officials Sept. 9 at an APC meeting in Williamsburg, Va., that the talks should be called off, possibly for two years, because SPI wants to focus on its attempts to woo more processors, APC President Red Cavaney said.
SPI Vice Chairman Harry Ussery, however, said APC officials called off the talks in a July 18 letter because they disagreed with SPI's recommendations on leadership. Efforts after that letter focused on restarting talks, he said.
Leaders of both organizations said they hoped and expected the two sides would resume talking in the future, in part because they said the plastics industry would be better-served by a more politically and financially powerful, unified organization.
But for now, at least, the talks are dead.
``It is my understanding, and it appears at this time, that a merger of the SPI and the APC is not feasible,'' Thomas said in a prepared statement. ``That is not to say it won't ever happen, or that discussions will not be held again, but in the immediate future, discussions are not likely to take place and it does not appear there will be a merger given the very different makeup of the organizations and their divergent goals and structure.''
Ussery, the head of SPI's negotiating team, said ``the talks broke off mainly because the positions of the two different task forces [APC and SPI] were too far apart on the leadership issue — the presidency issue.'' Ussery is also president of Beacon Plastics Inc. in Greenville, S.C.
SPI Chairman Patrick Jack said he wanted to hear first-hand from the negotiating team at SPI's board meeting in Washington Sept. 23-25, before making detailed comments about why the talks stalled. A split SPI board decided at its last meeting, in May, to move ahead with the talks.
``The board made a pretty clear decision at its last meeting to move ahead, and it's disappointing to a lot of people that we weren't able to do that with faster speed,'' he said.
Jack is senior vice president of chemicals for Fina Oil and Chemical Co. in Dallas.
SPI is an umbrella organization representing — and funded by — processors, machinery manufacturers, resin suppliers and others. APC and its high-profile advertising campaign, on the other hand, are funded exclusively by resin suppliers.
The talks have not been without troubles for SPI, including a snafu over who would sit on the negotiating team and concern from various business units of SPI and former leaders that any new group maintain an orientation toward processors. Officials with the Molders Division, for example, said another structure for SPI might hurt processor issues such as worker certification and dues restructuring.
But Jack said one of the benefits of a merger would have been to get processors more involved in grass-roots APC activities, which would have strengthened the industry's political clout. The two groups have a joint state government affairs unit that is funded largely by APC.
``APC's efforts will be somewhat limited without the active support of processors when problems come up in the state,'' he said. ``Regulators and legislators tend to respond to telephone calls from area codes they recognize.''
Cavaney said it is difficult to tell what the industry might lose with separate trade groups, but he predicted that ``one day our industry will have one organization that will represent all segments, like all developed industries.''
``My view is that having one organization where all the elements of the industry gather around the table is most effective,'' Cavaney said.
Cavaney said the two organizations will have to talk about their joint state government affairs unit. Most of those talks will center on how to keep that unit aware of the priorities and concerns of SPI's units so it works effectively, he said.
Thomas said the groups will have to focus even more on ``finding ways to reduce any conflicts and using all of our resources as effectively and as efficiently as possible, as we have, for example, in combining our state government affairs operations.''