Coral Springs exec freed from Chinese factory, arrives in SoFla.

A Coral Springs businessman held hostage by workers in his Chinese factory for nearly a week finally arrived home in South Florida early Friday.

Charles “Chip” Starnes, 42, was greeted at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport at 12:39 a.m. by a cheering cluster of about 30 family members, friends and their children.

The beginning of the end of his employee-enforced incarceration was a bit harrowing, he said.

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“As I was leaving the facility they actually took me around in three different cars at the very, very end to get me out of there,” he said. “I’m still on an adrenaline high right now after traveling 28 hours.”

Charles Starnes had been held at the factory in the Huairou district outside Beijing and was released Thursday after an all-night negotiation session in which he reached an agreement with workers over severance pay, his wife, Cecily Starnes, said.

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

Starnes flew from China to Newark, N.J., and then boarded United flight 1682 for Fort Lauderdale which arrived about an hour late.

“I’m just hoping to get a little [time to] lay in my bed for a few minutes and let it all come together,” he said moments before his wife threw her arms around his neck in Concourse B.

Starnes, who lives with his wife and their three children in Parkland, arrived in China last week to announce that his Coral Springs-based Specialty Medical Supplies would move its production of blood lancet devices to India.

About 30 workers were given a severance package amounting to about $5,000 each, according to Les Capella, Starnes’ business partner. Other workers at the 10-year-old plant then demanded the same severance pay, even though Starnes and Capella said they were not being laid off.

Starnes was blocked from leaving the plant, describing himself as a hostage being intimidated and blackmailed. Although he had access to a bathroom and was provided food and a cot, he had no change of clothes for six 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.

Last week, Capella estimated that to pay off the firm’s remaining 100 workers, he would need to come up with $500,000 in cash.

The settlement that Starnes reached Thursday is confidential, Capella said. While less that $500,000, “it was certainly enough to free him,” he said.

Capella said he and Starnes had no plans to close the plant, and that he hoped the production of alcohol prep pads would resume next week.

Asked his reaction to Starnes’ ordeal, Capella said, “Shock and awe. I am happy he’s out.”

Asked if he planned to return to his factory in China, Starnes said, “I’ve got a business, I’ve got assets over there, I mean, it’s something I’ll be discussing with my business partners in the next couple of days but we’ve got a lot of decisions to make and it’s better to make them [when I’m] not pent up in there.”

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.”

Charles Starnes, speaking briefly to reporters in China after his release, said 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.

Starnes and his family have been booked to appear on NBC’s “Today” show on Friday, Cecily Starnes said.

mwclary@tribune.com or 954-356-4465

Article source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/broward/parkland/fl-coral-springs-man-released-20130627,0,1124429.story?track=rss

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