FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — A South Florida businessman held hostage in China by his company’s workers in a pay dispute is back home and already back to work.
Chip Starnes arrived at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport early Friday to a group of waiting family and friends who help up signs for his happy homecoming.
“I felt like time had stood still,” Starnes said. “I felt like I was just here not too long ago and this little moment of time that took place was almost blacked out.”
He told reporters he was relieved to be home after his “nightmare” experience. Starnes was detained by nearly a hundred of his own employees at his company’s medical supply factory in China. They locked him in the factory, denying him blood pressure medication and sleep.
“It was an absolute nightmare, having no control, you know. Going into six and a half days, it was tough trying to make something happen,” said Starnes.
Starnes left the Beijing factory Thursday after he and a union representative reached an agreement to pay the workers who had demanded severance packages similar to ones given to laid-off co-workers in a phased-out division, even though the company said the remaining workers weren’t being laid off.
“I had no support, no family, no friends, not too many people were on my side,” Starnes said. “It was about 100 to 1.”
Starnes said at one point, a vendor threatened his life and that the second night in captivity was the most frightening.
“10 o’clock at night, boom, door comes open, 30, 40, 50 people coming in the office,” Starnes said, “Standing on your desk, sitting on the desk, window sills, all over the place; taking away all your personal space. Absolute intimidation tactics.”
Starnes’ business partner called it a ransom.
“I’ve been shaken down , forced to pay severances to people who have jobs over they were scared about something they thought we were going to do that we were not going to do. The government got involved, where it just, you know, fix the situation, calm the storm. At whose expense? It was my expense,” said Starnes.
All total, Starnes paid nearly $600,000 in severance pay, even though the employees were not laid off.
“They made me do it. They extorted me,” Starnes said. “I was extorted for money. I had no choice. I was put in a cage with all the hens in the hen house and I wasn’t getting out of there until I paid money.”
Now that he’s back home, Starnes has just one plan.
“Just hoping to get a little bit of, going to lay in my bed for a few minutes and let it all come together.”
Starnes and his business partner say they will likely continue to do business in China. They have the factory in Beijing and they plan to rehire some of the employees who they say simply followed the ringleaders of this plot.
“A snowball took place, a mob mentality took place, bad information got out that the whole factory was closing,” Starnes said of the genesis of the incident. “I think it created a panic. The workers themselves are not to blame for this.”
Chip Starnes, is the co-owner of Specialty Medical Supplies which sells little medical devices like lancets here out of its Coral Springs office. The products are made at the company’s factory in China.