Chinese employees release Coral Springs businessman

A Coral Springs businessman was on his way home to South Florida Thursday after an all-night negotiating session apparently resolved a dispute with Chinese factory workers who had held him hostage in his office for nearly a week.

Charles ‘Chip” Starnes, 42, was due to arrive at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport at about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, according to his wife Cecily Starnes.

“I feel elation,” said Cecily Starnes, who talked to her husband at midday Beijing time as he was being driven from the factory in the Huiarou district to the hotel where he had been staying until the siege began. “I am just so thrilled, relieved, happy.”

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After a marathon negotiation session with workers demanding severance pay, Starnes was permitted to leave the factory for the first time since last Thursday, said his wife. She said his two lawyers drove him to the hotel, where he picked up his belongings, and then went directly to the Beijing airport.

Cecily Starnes said her husband told her the lawyers changed cars twice while driving to the hotel and airport in order to dodge anyone who was following them.

“I think he was really worried and scared that he wasn’t going to get out of there,” she said. “He sounded very scared and nervous.”

It is unclear what Starnes agreed to in order to end the standoff that began after he announced his Coral Springs-based Specialty Medical Supplies would stop making one of its products and lay off about 30 workers. Those workers were given a severance package amounting to about $5,000 each, according to Starnes’s business partner Les Capella.

Other workers then demanded the same severance pay, even though Starnes and Capella said they were not being laid off.

News reports out of China on Thursday quoted local labor official Chu Lixian, head of the rights and interests department of the Huairou District Labor Union, as saying, “Both sides have come to an agreement through joint efforts made by Mr Starnes and the workers’ side. The results have turned out to be satisfactory.”

Speaking briefly after being released, Stanes told reporters the experience was “humiliating” and “embarrassing,” noting that in the early days of the standoff workers blocked all exits and prevented him from sleeping by banging on doors and windows.

Over the past few days, the story of Starnes’ predicament has drawn worldwide media coverage as an example of what China experts say is a growing militancy among factory workers.

Starnes is due to arrive in Newark, N.J. about 7 p.m. before boarding a flight for South Florida, said Cecily Starnes.

Starnes, his wife and their three children live in Parkland. They have been booked to appear on NBC’s Today Show on Friday, said Cecily Starnes., 954-356-4465

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