As a former vice president and general manager of SPI with 20 years of service, I would like to recommend a proposal, first formulated in 1981 but still relevant, which would help the American Plastics Council, Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. and other plastics associations cooperate so that the industry could speak with a single, strong voice.
Here is the historical background needed to understand why this proposal was developed. In 1968, I organized the first SPI environmental committee — the Plastics Solid Waste Committee — which, through many name changes and mission statements became the American Plastics Council. With the introduction of nonreturnable milk bottles, we were concerned about the impact this would have on local sanitation collection and disposal coupled with the potential for very negative publicity for the plastics industry.
As various anti-plastics events occurred after the first Earth Day, and the industry began to get increasingly bad press, SPI decided it should be the leader and take a proactive stance, rather than being on the defensive. The SPI board charged SPI President Ralph Harding and I to develop an environmental program for the industry. We worked with Burson-Marsteller and Hill and Knowlton to developed a broad-based aggressive program. To implement it, however, would require a 300 percent increase in dues for every SPI member.
We succeeded in getting the program adopted with a minimum loss of membership. For resin producers, the impact of the dues increase was greater than 300 percent. Also, several of SPI's operating units started their own environmental programs, which required dues in addition to the basic SPI dues, with many of these units stating that the resin producers should bear most the costs since they believed the environmental problem was primarily one that resin manufacturers should address.
I became concerned about this significant extra financial burden placed on the resin producers, especially since SPI had little contact with their top executives. To correct the situation and to create an awareness within this group of SPI's activities and objectives, Harding and I proposed to the board that SPI establish a committee of resin producers. We did, and called it the Polymeric Material Producers Committee. Every major resin producer joined and named its top executive to the committee, which, incidentally, functioned very productively for many years. Rex Scott of Phillips Petroleum Co. was outstanding in his dedication to establishing the committee, setting its goals and achieving its objectives.
As environmental attacks on the industry increased, the resin producers were asked to contribute more and more dues. Not all processor members agreed with the amount of spending for environmental issues because they felt the resin producers had the most to lose and, therefore, bore most of the financial burden. Those same members expressed concern that SPI was not spending their dues on their market interests.
SPI held hundreds of meetings each year and I attended many of them. It became evident to me that SPI had to change its structure or it would break apart — a situation that could be very anti-productive for the industry since it would significantly weaken its single voice. So, I made a proposal to restructure SPI by establishing it as a core organization that would provide general administrative, accounting and legal services. Included in the core would be committees for statistics, transportation, wage, operating ratios and other studies. The NPE show would be part of the core.
To this end, Ralph Harding; Bill Dirzulaitis, vice president of administration; and Bob Mallia, comptroller; and I spent days analyzing all revenue and costs and assigning each to general operations or the operating units. The analysis showed that most operating units were subsidized by general dues despite the separate dues they raised for their individual activities.
At that time, total dues revenue was $15 million. We determined that the core activities could be operated for about $2.5 million. We proposed lowering the general dues for all members by assessing them dues only on core requirements. Under my proposal, companies wishing to participate in an operating unit under the SPI umbrella would have to pay all costs, including staff, needed for their operation. Even though this proposal could result in loss of staff, most of the New York headquarters staff supported it.
We considered different allocation schemes using the existing dues structure. For example, allocating dues to SPI administrative and operating units. All were rejected because the two major member complaints of high dues and not enough dues being spent on operating units activity would continue under any allocation system.
Under my proposal, general dues would be significantly reduced. If a portion of NPE surplus were applied to the core, then SPI general dues would be nominal.
Operating units would be economically viable because their members' dues would be spent only on the activities approved by that unit. Also, the units could be located where their members wanted it to be located.
Other plastics trade associations could be affiliates of SPI for a nominal fee without having to change their operations or location.
Shortly after discussions of this proposal were begun with the SPI executive committee, Harding suffered a debilitating stroke and I served as acting president for the next 14 months. Also at that time, some board members began a strong push for SPI to move its headquarters to Washington.
It was a very difficult period for SPI. The executive committee and the board were split over the proposed move. One can understand how deeply the move divided the membership by noting that it was only this year that the last of the operating units that remained in New York finally moved to Washington — 15 years after the move was initially proposed. Now it appears that SPI is breaking up.
My proposal was radical and could not be considered during that period because of a combination of unusual circumstances. Experience tells me that what is happening at SPI now is as difficult as what we faced then — if not more so. The situation calls for radical changes if SPI is to continue and be relevant. I suggest that SPI search its files and review this proposal. It would be a way for APC, and other plastics organizations to affiliate with SPI, productively share their common objectives and problems, and make the plastics industry's voice stronger while emanating from a single source.
Resourceful Energy Service