For some reason, not by design, I've never been to a Polyurethane Manufacturers Association meeting. Yet I feel I know the group intimately.
When I started long ago at our publication as managing editor, Ernie Zielasko, the editor/publisher, along with the sales director and a salesman or two, would attend the PMA's spring and fall meetings. Ernie would cover the event, but I suspect the others came primarily for the golf, since the group of cast urethane product makers and suppliers always met at some exotic golfing resort.
It's different now. The PMA has one annual meeting, and while there still is a golf outing, senior reporter Mike McNulty—a non-golfer, like me—has covered the event for years, and churned out many stories generated from his contacts at the conference.
It's through Mike's stories and coverage of the PMA before his time that I've gotten to know all about the organization and its members.
The group is celebrating its 40th anniversary at its April 10-12 meeting. The fact it still is in existence, offering programs and services its members want, is worthy of mention.
Companies have a “corporate culture,” and so do trade organizations that represent them. Some are collegial and friendly, others hierarchical and stuffy, still others secretive and perhaps paranoid. In general, I'd say most are way more businesslike than they were in the past, reflecting the industry in which they operate.
I can sum up the PMA's personality in a word: feisty.
The organization made its mark by fighting against the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's attempt to regulate MOCA, the most-used polyurethane curative. OSHA said studies showed MOCA caused cancer in lab animals, so the agency wanted to limit worker exposure—to the extent the PMA member said would force them out of business.
It was a David vs. Goliath battle, running for years. When OSHA finally gave up, the PMA had to fight other regulatory assaults, such as from the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Council of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.
The PMA beat them all, although the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the ACGIH still have “recommendations” of exposure limits—but no binding rules—concerning MOCA.
Funny thing, though, I've been to cast urethane shops, and it always seemed to me the companies as a matter of course limit exposure to MOCA and any other chemicals. These aren't sweat shops, and the owners and managers don't want to harm their workers.
Ultimately, I think the PMA members self-regulate, and didn't want a government agency telling them what to do, especially when it concerned something—danger from exposure levels—that OSHA hadn't proved occurred in real-world circumstance.
The PMA's feistiness is what you'd expect from a group that includes a number of members that started their businesses in their garage. Literally.
You can add “entrepreneurs” to the description of the PMA membership. And “survivors.”
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastic News.