Best Buy Provides Pizza, Asks Employees To Contact Congress About E-Fairness Bill

“When I was at work today I went to the breakroom to relax, only to walk in to see a guy from the corporate office and [a] pizza,” writes reader S. Who doesn’t like free food in the breakroom at work? S. found that pizza’s side dish distasteful: a request for store employees to call their representative in Congress about a piece of pending legislation that’s important to Best Buy’s survival.

Some states require online sellers to charge sales tax as long as the seller has a physical presence in the customer’s state. If you’re Best Buy, with a physical retail presence nationwide, that’s problematic when competing with out-of-state, online-only sellers of electronics and accessories. That’s why a final push to convince the House to pass this seemingly dead bill is important to retailers. Like Best Buy.

S. took photos of the flyers given out at the pizza table: a flyer explaining why e-fairness should be important to retail workers, and a sheet telling employees who to call and what to say.

efairness

We’re only providing part of the flyer so we can conceal S.’s location a little bit. At the top was information about how many Best Buy stores there are in the representative’s district, and how many people those stores employ.

script

S. really, really didn’t like this outreach effort. “It didn’t seem like many of the people working with me cared much,” he writes, “but a friend and I were in shock that this was allowed at work. It seems like something they shouldn’t be pushing on the people who work for them.”

Was Best Buy really pushing this on their employees? We called up the company’s communications department and asked whether this was a real push from corporate. Indeed, it is, a spokesman confirmed. Representatives didn’t visit every store, but brought pizza, flyers, and scripts to Best Buy locations in “key Congressional districts.” For Best Buy’s purposes, that means members of Congress who are known to be on the fence or opposed to the bill. Backers of the Retail Fairness Act, a bill that passed the Senate in May of 2013, want the House to just vote on it already, instead of drastically changing it or drafting a new bill.

As for providing a script, form letters and phone scripts are common all over the political spectrum, arming citizens who might have never called a politician before with what they should say and how they should phrase it.

Best Buy sent us a statement on their Marketplace Fairness Act efforts aimed at employees:

We are engaged in a grassroots campaign to convince Congress to act on the issue of tax fairness, and nothing is more grassroots than working with store employees who live in key congressional districts. We ask these employees to make a call to their congressman, but it is just an ask and nothing more. The pizza is for everyone in the store, whether they make a call or not.

The question is: is this appropriate for an employer to do? As S. describes, most people are probably apathetic, but many would contact their legislators when they support or oppose a bill that could affect their own jobs or careers. I certainly have. Efforts like this become problematic when calling or writing in is a requirement for continued employment or favorable scheduling.

Yet some employees might walk away with the impression that this is something that they have to do, or feel somehow coerced by having a representative of the company push political action right there in the store. S. had the impression that pizza was only for people who were going to contact their representatives, but that’s not the case. As the Best Buy spokesperson told us, the pizza was for everyone, and the flyers and phone scripts just an optional side dish.

What do you think?

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  1. SuperSpeedBump says:

    I’m sorry, but I feel no sympathy for these “Big Box” stores. Decades ago they came in and undercut the competition with a lot of unfair and shady dealings, destroying businesses by the thousands and putting people out of work.

    At that time, the laws worked in their favor. Now, those very same laws are working against them. Boo. Hoo.

  2. Xenotaku says:

    While I don’t necessarily agree with the approach, I do think that businesses should educate their employees about this bill, and encourage them to voice their opinions (in either direction).

    I, personally, hope that this goes through. I’ve always disliked the whole “some places charge tax/some don’t” online. Yeah, it’s great that I don’t have to pay tax on my Right Stuf orders, but why should I have to pay 10% extra on my Amazon orders just because they’re based in WA, when others don’t?

    Online businesses should either charge tax or not, and it should be the same for every store, and every customer. Sure, there’s gonna be some complexity when dealing with international orders, but at least for US business-to-US customer orders, it needs to be even.

    • CzarChasm says:

      The problem is the internet allows people to set up small companies and make a profit. A law that requires someone working out of their garage to know, and keep track of all state, local, and city taxes for the entire country (world?) then submit the forms required to those agencies, would render a small business distasteful, if not impossible.

      • The bill that Best Buy is trying to get passed specifically exempts businesses with gross sales under a certain amount.

        • CzarChasm says:

          Fair enough, but we all know how laws work. As the years go on and the “certain amount” becomes less and less relevant, it’s not like lawmakers are going to continually revisit the issue. If the law had been written in 1913, it would probably state than anyone making more than $800 (the yearly average income at the time) would be taxed.

          There may be a fair way to set this up for everyone, keeping both big and small businesses in mind, but it’s almost guaranteed the law won’t be written that way.

      • Xenotaku says:

        Except that they’d only be charging 1 tax, their own state’s. Amazon is in WA, so they’d charge everyone WA’s sales tax. Just like if you were on vacation in WA and bought something.

  3. CzarChasm says:

    I am pretty surprised by the responses, I have never worked at a company that didn’t have some sort of agenda, and a way to tell people what it is. Why is everyone so outraged? Is it because they also brought pizza?

  4. ShadyTrust says:

    Even aside from the faults of Best Buy coming at this by serving pizza and requesting a favor in return, the other issue I have with this is the angle they’re taking in their letter. It doesn’t talk about if/how this is better for society or supply any actual merit to their case. All they have to say is “pass this law to keep us in business.” While the current state of gov’t may appear otherwise, laws aren’t to be made to keep businesses in business. They’re (supposed) to be made for the good of the people and if that f**ks with your business then it’s your job to adapt.