US boss held captive by Chinese workers cries foul

They want severance. He says they're not fired. The standoff highlights the vulnerable position foreign companies are in.

By Bruce Kennedy Jun 25, 2013 1:52PM

A drama playing out in a Beijing suburb where an American boss is being held hostage by his Chinese employees offers an insightful snapshot into growing labor issues inside the People's Republic.


Chip Starnes, the 42-year-old co-owner of Specialty Medical Supplies, has been blocked from leaving his company's Chinese facilities since Friday. His Florida company makes disposable medical supplies, such as the alcohol prep pads used to clean skin before injections.

Starnes says the dispute began after his arrival last week, when he laid off several dozen Chinese employees and paid them severance packages. The remaining 100 or so workers at the facility then called for the same payment.


"They are demanding full severance pay, but they still have a job," Starnes, stuck in his office, told NBC News. "That's the problem."


ChipStarnes, co-owner of Specialty Medical Supplies, looks out from a window as he is held hostage by angry workers inside his plant on the outskirts of Beijing, China on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 (© Andy Wong/AP Photo)The layoffs were prompted by plans to move part of the company's operations to India. But a local union official told The Associated Press the workers believe the entire plant is closing down and that Starnes would "run away" without paying his employees -- not uncommon in China.


One plant employee told AP she hadn't been paid for two months and wanted to quit, but she also wanted her salary and compensation. Starnes denies he's closing his China operations or that his staff wasn't being paid.


"That's ridiculous," he told The New York Times. "They were all paid on Monday."


The U.S. Embassy in Beijing is monitoring the situation, and for the moment Chinese law enforcement appears to be taking a hands-off approach to the dispute. But Starnes says local officials are pressuring him to pay off the disgruntled workers.


"The union just wants to do anything that will calm the people," he said in a phone interview with the paper. "They are asking me to commit business suicide."


Starne's predicament underscores growing discontent among China's labor force, in which employers sometimes cheat workers out of their salaries and employees have little legal recourse. The nation's slowing economy, coupled with widespread demands for better salaries, is also creating new workplace tensions.


The standoff highlights the often-vulnerable position of foreign companies doing business in China.


"It's easy in China to agitate around a foreign employer," a business executive in Beijing, who asked not to be named, told The New York Times. "This society is accustomed to using tools of mass mobilization, and when a spark erupts in the wrong place, things can quickly get out of control."


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9Comments
Jun 25, 2013 4:36PM
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Greed begets more greed  evil begets more evil violence begets more violence...... maybe he should have stayed in the good ole USA
Jun 25, 2013 2:25PM
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I guess I would say, OK pay then the severance packages and close the factory and move it to India. Then they all can be with out jobs.
Jun 25, 2013 6:02PM
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have to hand it to the chinese.it never occured to me to not let the coe go when he told us the factory was moving to mexico.brilliant.i guess the chinese workers must be getting sick of being paid slave wages while the corporation grows fat.lol.i love it.the chinese government let snowden go and they arent rescuing an america ceo.dam youd almost think they were communists and didnt answer to the united states government......well go on ship more jobs there fools

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It may have been better to have stayed in America.  We understand what being "laid off" means.  It means the company is going to move overseas to pay less wages.
Jun 25, 2013 5:08PM
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...and people complain about unions in this country (as I have sometimes, if I feel their demands are outlandish), but our unions don't take their bosses hostage the way these Chinese workers have, well, maybe we do have something similar, i.e., when teachers' unions hold the children hostage when they threaten to strike over pay raises, you could say that is a form of hostage taking.

 

But I got a kick out of what triggered this....Chinese jobs being outsourced...TO INDIA! Yeah, how's it feel getting it up the wahzoo!   Makes me wonder though, after the workers in India are no longer cheap enough for the companies, what's next?  Maybe the corporations will hire scientists to train monkeys and gerbils to perform work and services.  The gerbils of course will be reserved to meet the needs of the CEOs and their upper management teams.

Jun 25, 2013 6:39PM
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To Chinese people: Where is the appreciation and loyalty,              right?  Give them a kick in their faces for me.
Jun 26, 2013 5:56AM
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Business has been taken over by the lying greedy.  America has lost respect world wide. Soon, our policing the world rights will be taken away.
Jun 25, 2013 6:50PM
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Union organizing perhaps..??

 

And I know I shouldn't say this:

"Ve wanny our Yaun, vhitey.."

 

Out-out sourcing at its finest.

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