Business, Economics and Jobs

China: Chip Starnes, American boss, held hostage by workers demanding pay


A textile factory in Huaibei, in east China's Anhui province, Aug. 9, 2011.



Chip Starnes, a co-owner of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Specialty Medical Supplies, says Chinese workers have been holding him hostage at the company’s suburban Beijing factory for four days.

He spoke to reporters from the medical supply factory, which he visited last week to lay off about 30 injection molding division workers. Wages for Chinese workers have risen, and the company is planning on moving its plastics division to Mumbai, India, where labor is cheaper.

More from GlobalPost: Bye-bye cheap, Chinese labor

The workers are receiving “pretty nice” severance packages, Starnes told the Associated Press – as much as a year’s pay for the longest-serving employees.

Other employees at the company heard about the severance packages and started demanding similar payouts, fearing the company was going to shut down the entire Beijing operation, Starnes said. Starnes told CNN that 80 to 100 employees are asking for about $500,000, which would bankrupt the company.

"I tried to leave…, and there was like 60 or 70 of them here inside every entrance, and every exit was barricaded," Starnes told CNN today. The workers have also attempted to prevent him from sleeping on a cot in his office by shining lights into the room and banging on the windows, he said.

Some workers told reporters that they were actually seeking two months’ worth of overdue wages.

According to the AP:

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.

“I feel like a trapped animal,” Starnes told the AP on Monday from his first-floor office window. “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.”