ARLINGTON, VA- The concept of “one membership” is a painful process for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), which held its 34th annual convention in Kissimmee, Fla., February 27-March 1. The problem: some members of the national association choose not to belong to their local and/or state chapter. More often, the reverse is true: hvac contractors choose membership in their local and/or state chapters without joining national ACCA.

Local chapter membership dues are usually low, around $100 per year. State chapter membership can add another $300 or so, with national membership running $355.

This multi-tiered membership option is being phased out. ACCA’s board of directors has set an admittedly ambitious goal of “federation” or single membership for all its members, by January 2003. Members of local and state chapters would be required to join the national as well.

It’s easy to see what the national association has to gain: members and dues.

But some hvac contractors are resisting.

In fact, Michigan chapter executive Lynn Briggs says that if enough local and/or state chapter members refuse to join national ACCA, “We won’t be able to keep our doors open.”

Briggs has been affiliated with Michigan ACCA since 1995. He speculates that if not enough state chapter members opt to join national ACCA, it could mean that the state chapter has to drop out of ACCA altogether, perhaps joining another national association or forming an association of its own.

Briggs said he was a big proponent of the change at first, convinced that local ACCA members would see the value in joining the national association as well. The reality, though, he sees now is that many small contractors, especially the “Mom and Pops” can’t afford or are unwilling to pay a single membership that could amount to several hundred dollars per year.

“Many of these are members of other associations as well,” Briggs points out, “such as the local chamber of commerce, or the builders.” Many hvac contractors are required to hold membership in the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), Briggs said, which also shares ACCA’s new federated structure.

Many non-national members are receiving ACCA benefits, according to ACCA. In fact, only about 7%, or 4,000 of the estimated 58,000 hvac contractors in the U.S. belong to national ACCA.

ACCA, meanwhile admits it must do a better job of selling itself and the benefits of membership to non-members. It also realizes it has a tough task ahead of it to convince non-members to join. It is prepared to bounce those chapters that do not meet the new criteria. “In the isolated event where (national membership) proves unattainable, their ACCA affiliation must be terminated until such time as they can meet the requirements of ACCA affiliation under the new structure.”

Jeanne Cooper, director of federation relations for ACCA, said meetings were scheduled throughout the national convention to address some of the concerns, but that “this is an evolutionary process that will go on throughout the year” and that “not everything is etched in stone at this point.”