MIAMI (CBS4) – A Parkland man has been held hostage for five days by workers at one of his company’s offices in Beijing.
The employees are demanding severance packages similar to the ones that workers received in another phased-out part of the company.
Chip Starnes, 42, co-owner of Coral Springs based Specialty Medical Supplies, has had to lay off some workers in preparation to move some of the operation to India. Last week he went to their plant in Beijing to close down the plastics division. Since Friday, has been captive in his own factory.
“They’re holding me in a cage like an animal,” said Starnes.
Up to eighty workers have demanded the same severance pay that the company gave to 30 laid off employees. To
“We paid the lump sums for terminating the position, but a lot of them got jealous because they used to work over there and they wanted those lump sums as well,” said Starnes.
Starnes said he’s barely slept. He said workers are always around him and shined lights in his eyes at night. As for just hopping over the locked front gate and leaving, Starnes said it wasn’t a good ide.
“Well, I think I could absolutely do that, but I think that would probably be the wrong impression to give at this point in time,” said Starnes.
Starnes said he understands the workers’ position.
“When I came here ten years ago, when we opened, say we needed 20 positions, we’d have 200 people. I think they’re more educated, they’re more focused on higher-tech stuff right now,” said Starnes.
China’s low-skilled labor shortage is expected to worsen as workers favor higher paying jobs.
Those holding Starnes said they grew anxious when they saw equipment being packed up and people laid off. Gao Ping has been with the company for six years. She said the company also owes them money.
“You’re wrong. We women can’t hold the boss hostage. We’re negotiating. He didn’t pay us wages,” said Ping.
Ping claims she hasn’t been paid about $400, roughly two months salary. Others said the company also owes them unpaid wages. Starnes has denied those allegations, calling it all a misunderstanding. He said he’s willing to discuss the matter and shouldn’t be held against his will.
“I deserve the right to go to my hotel room. I deserve the right to come back and we can address things, professionally. This is not how it’s done,” said Starnes.
Starnes wife said her husband’s living conditions have improved since opening labor negotiations with union and government officials.
Cecily Starnes says her husband, is now working with his third Chinese attorney to resolve the dispute.
Starnes said she first learned that her husband was in trouble Friday when she received a text message. It read: “I am calling the U.S. Embassy for help.”
Labor disputes in China are not that uncommon but preventing a foreigner from leaving his business is quite unusual. The workers said he’s not a hostage; he’s getting three meals a day… and hasn’t been physically threatened.