The merger seems inevitable with a majority vote needed this fall.

Every so often, a change in the industry generates a lot of buzz. That is what occurred when the American Society of Sanitary Engineers announced it signed an agreement to merge with the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. I received many phone calls and emails after the announcement. While it is being called a merger, basically IAPMO is absorbing ASSE.

While it is not a done deal, the demise of ASSE as an independent organization seems to be inevitable. It merely requires a majority vote of the ASSE membership at its annual meeting in Philadelphia. One would think that, with such an important decision on the line, every member would receive a letter ballot. But the board seems content to proceed with a simple majority vote of a small segment of the membership at the annual meeting.

So what does all this mean for the plumbing industry? ASSE is best known for its standards, especially its standards on backflow preventers. IAPMO is best known for publishing the Uniform Plumbing Code, which references ASSE standards. The independence between the plumbing code and these plumbing standards will disappear. On the surface, that doesn’t look good. However, in reality, that already has happened, since both IAPMO and the International Code Council write standards that are referenced in their own codes.

ASSE originally was started in the Washington, D.C., area by a group of plumbing inspectors. It expanded to cover all segments of the plumbing industry. IAPMO also was started by a group of plumbing inspectors, but in the Los Angeles area. It expanded to cover all parts of the industry.

The United Association (the plumber’s union) has a good understanding with IAPMO. The UA has a good understanding with ASSE, too. So, for many, the merger or acquisition seemed to take longer than they thought. That is not to say everyone is happy in both camps. But, such is the case in any merger.

Loss of credibility

In many ways, ASSE has been declining for a number of years. Some trace it back to when its board of directors, for some reason, decided they would not support their standards. That’s right, they don’t support their own standards.

If you are publishing a standard, you would hope the organization responsible would support it. But not ASSE. To give you a comparison, imagine if IAPMO published a plumbing code and didn’t support it:“Here’s a plumbing code, if you like it use it, if you don’t, don’t use it. We have no opinion on the code.” Crazy, isn’t it? That is what ASSE has been doing for years.

The end result is the organization lost credibility. All a nonprofit organization has to offer is credibility. Once you lose it, you start losing members. Plus, you lose the interest of the active members.

I always look for the positives in this type of situation. The one big positive is that IAPMO supports what it does. If it publishes a standard or code, it is out promoting that standard or code. That could be a big help and the boost needed for ASSE.

What is interesting to note is a number of ASSE standards are not accepted in the body of the Uniform Plumbing Code. One would think that will change. That is a good thing, since the plumbing code will be improved by referencing these ASSE standards. If IAPMO doesn’t reference the standards, it is back to treating standards the way ASSE currently does. I can’t see IAPMO becoming that way.

What is sad is all the hard work and dedication shown by many of the old timers in ASSE. I think of my friends Herb Panzer, Charlie Peebles, Johnny Nussbaum, Mel Yampolsky, Pat Sugrue, Joe Petro and Ken Kerr, to name a few. All these gentlemen, and many others, dedicated their lives to help ASSE become successful. Unfortunately, the success they brought has waned.

I have faith that IAPMO will make the activities of ASSE vibrant again. ASSE will just be under the IAPMO umbrella; it will no longer be independent.

I hope that IAPMO will fold the ASSE standards development process into the IAPMO process. That would be a very good thing. IAPMO does a good job of developing consensus standards, but ASSE’s method is on the poor side, with favoritism shown on the appointments to the Standards Committee. IAPMO’s process is more open and transparent. It has nothing to hide.

IAPMO already has a backflow institute, so the backflow part of ASSE can be readily folded into that part of IAPMO, which would only make the program stronger.

For those of us that pay IAPMO and ASSE dues, perhaps we will be able to get rid of one set of dues. I don’t expect that to happen immediately, but I would hope there is a reduction in dues for ASSE if you are already a member of IAPMO. We’ll have to see.

Nothing has been set in stone regarding this merger. I am sure both boards and the staff of IAPMO have their ideas. But it still takes the vote of the ASSE membership to put everything in motion.

Don’t expect major changes right away. IAPMO always has been good about going slowly and feeling its way through such mergers. It tries to do what is right for the members of the groups it acquires. I would expect nothing less with the acquisition of ASSE.

If you are an ASSE member, and have strong feelings one way or another, I would encourage you to attend ASSE’s annual meeting Nov. 13-17 in Philadelphia. Let your voice be heard. Vote however you think best for the two organizations.

This is a new day for both organizations. Let’s hope that it works out to the benefit of the plumbing industry.