WASHINGTON — One week after pronouncing merger talks with the American Plastics Council dead, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. now says it wants to resume the contentious discussions between the industry's two largest trade associations.
The switch came after the SPI board met in Arlington, Va., and decided in a near- unanimous vote to instruct its officers to ask APC to restart the talks, SPI officials said Sept. 25.
The talks broke down earlier this month, in what some SPI sources said was a dispute over leadership of any combined organization. SPI negotiators reportedly favored current SPI President Larry Thomas, while APC wanted the question left open.
But the SPI board decided to tell its officers to meet again with APC and talk about further cooperation and restarting talks, said SPI Chairman Patrick Jack. The officers expect to bring a proposal on how to continue talks back to the SPI board in January. Jack is senior vice president of chemicals for Fina Oil and Chemical Co. in Dallas.
At stake in the talks, according to supporters of unification, is whether the industry is able to create a wealthier and more politically powerful association to represent what is in some ways a fragmented industry. But overcoming some of those divisions has proven very difficult thus far, including strong concerns from some SPI members that any new group retain strong processor programs.
The SPI board did not resolve the leadership question, leaving that ``to deal with down the pike,'' said Vice Chairman Harry Ussery. Ussery is also president of Beacon Plastics Inc. in Greenville, S.C.
``When faced with the possibility that talks could be off, there was a lot of thinking that there must be another way,'' he said. ``That is why the SPI board charged its officers to come back with a proposal and not get into specific issues. There was a strong sentiment that this is important to our industry.''
The decision was welcomed by outgoing APC President Red Cavaney, who said APC would rejoin talks as long as SPI has ``strong organizational support for something like this'' and the talks do not ``drag on interminably'' and erode staff morale.
``If past history is any guide, I think even an optimist would have to say that this would appear to be something that would take quite some time,'' Cavaney said. APC is very interested in talking, but both groups are in the midst of major reorganizations that are more difficult to do if merger talks hang open for too long, he said.
The two sides quarreled over who broke off the talks, with SPI claiming APC did in a midsummer letter and APC saying that SPI officials suspended discussions in early September.
SPI's old negotiating team was led by Ussery and consisted of four processors and two machinery makers. It did not include any representation from resin supplier companies.
The new group comprises SPI's five officers, who represent SPI's three main groups: processors, machinery manufacturers and resin suppliers. They include Jack; Ussery; Secretary Robert Ackley, president of equipment maker Davis Standard Corp.; Treasurer Arthur Goodsel, president of Huron Plastics Group Inc.; and immediate past Chairman G. Watts Humphrey, chief executive officer of Conair Group.
Jack said he would contact APC leaders within a week.
APC members are all resin suppliers, most of whom also are members of SPI. APC's predecessor organization, the Council for Solid Waste Solutions, was an offshoot of SPI, but SPI has no control over APC.
Jack said SPI was happy with its negotiating team's performance. He blamed problems on misunderstandings of board actions at its May meeting, when SPI decided to continue talks but was unclear about its position on leadership.
Some members thought the board put off leadership talks, while others thought the board wanted advice on how to handle leadership, Jack said.
``We did not walk away with a consistent understanding of what that meant,'' Jack said. ``That presented the [negotiating] task force with a real challenge.''
But Cavaney said several APC/SPI members were concerned that actions the SPI board had taken earlier this year were not consistent with what was happening at the bargaining table.
``Several of them told me they were looking for answers at these meetings'' in Arlington this week, he said.
The SPI team will use a proposal developed by Ussery's task force as a basis for trying to restart talks, Jack said.
That proposal recommends:
Combining the communications, technical affairs, government affairs, finance and administration, legal, membership and regional offices.
Leaving alone the APC ad campaign, SPI business units such as the Composites Institute and the SPI trade shows.
Creating an executive council that would be equally split between processors, machinery companies and resin manufacturers.