• Chip  Starnes, 42, said he was being kept captive by scores of  workers
  • He said  they were demanding severance packages
  • The workers  were expecting wire transfers by Tuesday said Mr  Starnes

By  Jill Reilly

PUBLISHED: 07:20 EST, 24  June 2013 |  UPDATED: 07:35 EST, 24 June 2013

Hostage: 

Hostage: American Chip Starnes, co-owner of Specialty  Medical Supplies, looks out from a window in Beijing

An American executive announced today that he  has been held hostage for four days at his medical supply plant in  Beijing.

Chip Starnes, 42,  said he was being kept captive by scores of workers demanding severance packages  like those given to 30 co-workers in a phased-out department.

Mr Starnes, a co-owner of Coral Springs,  Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies, said local officials had visited the  10-year-old plant on the capital’s outskirts and coerced him into signing  agreements Saturday to meet the workers’ demands even though he sought to make  clear that the remaining 100 workers weren’t being laid off.

The workers were expecting wire transfers by  Tuesday, he said, adding that about 80 of them had been blocking every exit  around the clock and depriving him of sleep by shining bright lights and banging  on windows of his office.

He declined to clarify the amount, saying he  wanted to keep it confidential.

‘I feel like a trapped animal,’ Mr Starnes  told The Associated Press on Monday from his first-floor office window, while  holding onto the window’s bars.

‘I think it’s inhumane what is going on  right now. I have been in this area for 10 years and created a lot of jobs and I  would never have thought in my wildest imagination something like this would  happen.’

Anguish:  

Anguish: ‘I feel like a trapped animal,’ Mr Starnes said  from his first-floor office window, while holding onto the window’s  bars

Workers inside the compound, a pair of  two-story buildings behind gates and hedges in the Huairou district of the  northeastern Beijing suburbs, repeatedly declined requests for comment, saying  they did not want to talk to foreign media.

 

It is not rare in China for managers to be  held by workers demanding back pay or other benefits, often from their Chinese  owners, though occasionally also involving foreign bosses.

The labor action reflects growing uneasiness  among workers about their jobs amid China’s slowing economic growth and the  sense that growing labor costs make the country less attractive for some  foreign-owned factories. The account about local officials coercing Starnes to  meet workers’ demands – if true – reflects how officials typically consider  stifling unrest to be a priority.

Huairou district and Qiaozi township  governments declined to comment.

A local police spokesman said police were at  the scene to maintain order. Four uniformed police and about a dozen other men  who declined to identify themselves were standing across the road from the  plant.

Demands: 

Demands: Mr Starnes said that dozens of workers  demanding severance packages like those given to co-workers in a phased-out  department

CaptiveCaptive: An unidentified U.S. Embassy employee, left,  and Chinese official walk outside the closed gate at Specialty Medical Supplies  plant where Chip Starnes is being held hostage

‘As far as I know, there was a labor dispute  between the workers and the company management and the dispute is being solved,’  said spokesman Zhao Lu of the Huairou Public Security Bureau.

‘I am not sure about the details of the  solution, but I can guarantee the personal safety of the  manager.’

Representatives from the U.S. Embassy stood  outside the gate much of the day, and eventually were let in. U.S. Embassy  spokesman Nolan Barkhouse said the two sides were on the verge of an agreement  and that Starnes would have access to his attorneys.

It was unclear what agreement might be  reached, and subsequent attempts to contact Starnes were not immediately  successful.

Starnes said the company had gradually been  winding down its plastics division, planning to move it to Mumbai, India. He  arrived in Beijing last Tuesday to lay off the last 30 people. Some had been  working there for up to nine years, so their compensation packages were ‘pretty  nice,’ he said.

Some of the workers in the other divisions  got wind of this, and, coupled with rumors that the whole plant was moving to  India, started demanding similar severance packages on Friday.

Christian Murck, president of the American  Chamber of Commerce in China, said he wasn’t familiar with Starnes’ case, but  that such hostage-taking was ‘not a major problem’ for the foreign business  community.

‘It happened more often say 15 years ago than  today, but it still happens from time to time,’ he said.

‘It rarely leads to personal harm to the  managers involved, but there are cases when it has in years past.

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