Burger King manager says he was fired for sticking up for employees

CHINLE

The former shift manager of the Chinle Burger King says he was fired for standing up for his employees, who in turn were threatened with firing after they stood up for him. Mark Martin, 34, said he has worked in the fast-food industry since he was 14 and for Burger King restaurants on the reservation, all of which are owned by R.H. Mike Enterprises, since 2013.

Martin said he has a lot of respect for Richard Mike, founder of R.H. Mike Enterprises, and doesn’t want to “drag his name through the mud.” But, according to Martin, Mike is not as involved in the businesses as he used to be and the Burger King franchises are currently being run by the company’s vice president, Nina Heflin, and Director of Operations Rich Rivers. Heflin did not return two calls by press time. Martin said he was fired Aug. 7 but was never given a firm reason.

According to Martin, Rivers had accused him of mixing up shift schedules, which Martin denies, and claimed that the Chinle restaurant was underperforming. But when Martin looked up the sales figures, that wasn’t the case, he said. “The July sales at Chinle Burger King were $349,758 this year compared to $315,196 the year before,” Martin said. “That’s an increase of $34,000.” Transactions, another measure of a fast-food restaurant’s success, were also up from last year to the tune of 3,623, according to Martin. Besides that, Martin had just been given a $25,000 retention bonus.

“If I was going to fire me,” he said, “I certainly wouldn’t have given me $25,000 first.” Martin says he was dedicated to the company, having run between the stores in Chinle, Burnside, Cameron and Kayenta, Arizona, at the drop of a hat when the company needed someone at one of those locations. While helping set up the newest store in Cameron, he said, he slept in a travel trailer with five other employees.

In the six years he’s worked for R. H. Mike, he has never taken off more than three days in a row. In addition, he introduced several community outreach innovations, including free meals for Chinle first- and second-graders who hit reading goals, and free coffee and cinnamon rolls for school faculty meetings. So why was Martin fired? He said he and Rivers often butted heads over treatment of the employees, most recently when employees were promised a one-dollar-an-hour raise after completing a food-safety training program and then never got it.

“I asked, ‘When are the employees going to get their dollar?’” recalled Martin. “Rich said, ‘After they have five consecutive shifts with no criticals (food safety infractions).’ That was never part of the original agreement.” Martin said after he was fired he asked for a meeting between himself, Heflin and Rivers, during which things became heated and he says Heflin told him to “shut up.” He received a letter telling him he had disturbed the customers by yelling, which he says is the only written document he has received concerning his firing.

He disputes that too. “I’ve had a sore throat all week,” he said. “I couldn’t have yelled if I wanted to. Nina was the one doing the yelling.”

Three employees at the Chinle store, who spoke to the Times on the condition of anonymity because they fear for their jobs, said they were “in shock” after learning of Martin’s firing.

“Everybody likes Mark,” said one. “Customers come in and ask for him.”

“He breaks his back for this company,” added another.

A third said Rivers and Martin had had an uncomfortable relationship since Rivers was hired because of different management styles. “Rich would come in every three months, call us ‘dummy’ and ‘stupid’ and tell us, ‘You’re doing this wrong, you’re doing that wrong,’” he said. “Mark is more into training and setting an example. I think Rich felt threatened by Mark.”

The employees decided to protest Martin’s dismissal on social media — after reading Burger King’s policy on social media posts. “We’re not supposed to mention Burger King or any of its employees by name,” said one of the employees. “So we didn’t. We mentioned Mark’s name because he was no longer an employee.”

According to the employees, Heflin got wind of the posts and paid a visit to the Chinle store, where she ordered the employees to stop posting about the situation, suggesting they would lose their jobs if they didn’t.

“You guys have to decide whether you work for me or not,” Heflin can be heard saying in a cell phone recording of the meeting. “We don’t want to lose you but I can’t deal with this.” “I need this job,” protests one woman. “I have seven children.” “Can you be loyal to us?” Heflin responds. “If I have any more from you and (another employee), you guys are going to be gone.” She added that Martin was not fired for sticking up for his employees, but for “inappropriate” conduct. “I don’t know what she’s talking about,” said Martin, “but whatever it is, they need to put it in writing and give me a chance to respond to it.”

He said listening to the recording of the meeting made him angry. “Their problem is with me,” he said. “They don’t have to take it out on good employees just because they spoke out on their personal social media accounts about something they think is wrong.” Martin said he will take his grievance to the Office of Navajo Labor Relations. He said he doesn’t want his job back, but he wants an apology and he wants R. H. Mike Enterprises to start treating its employees better.

“If you s–t on the people who are making money for you, they will turn around and treat your customers poorly, and pretty soon you don’t have a successful company,” he said. “They need to learn that.”

About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.