The state Board of Examiners of Master Plumbers voted unanimously to give the New Jersey Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (NJAPHCC) and the New Jersey State League of Master Plumbers legal standing in their case.
For more than a year, the two organizations have fought the state's attorney general and Sears to dispute the state's interpretation of what constitutes a plumbing company. New Jersey requires that any plumbing contracting company must be at least 10 percent owned by a licensed independent contractor in order to advertise legally. Robert Beck, a state licensed master plumber, is listed as a 10 percent owner of the company.
"It was a great victory for the plumbing industry in New Jersey," said Frank Brill, the state executive manager for the NJAPHCC. "This battle is far from over."
Sears, Roebuck and Co. established a limited liability company, Sears Plumbing LLC, in Delaware to perform plumbing work in New Jersey. However, Sears Home Central and other Sears divisions have been advertising their ability to perform any plumbing work needed.
When Sears is contacted for plumbing work they are sending out both licensed and unlicensed plumbers to perform work, according to the two organizations.
"The company has to the best of our ability brought ourselves to full compliance of the law," said Mike Chertoff, the lead counsel for Sears. "What Sears is seeking to do is foster competition in the trade by working with licensed master plumbers, and helping to improve consumer confidence."
Charles Johnson, legal chairman of the New Jersey State League of Master Plumbers, doesn't believe so.
Johnson said he wants to make sure consumers know that they are not dealing with Sears, but with third party companies.
"We're not trying to put Sears out of business," Johnson said. "We just want to make sure Sears plays by the same rules we do."