“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.
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.
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?