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U.S. Businessman Trapped By Chinese Workers Is Freed

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
June 27, 2013

American businessman Chip Starnes finally left his factory in China on Thursday after he and a union negotiator worked out severance payments for Chinese employees.

Starnes had been stuck inside his medical supply parts factory since last Friday. That’s when workers, fearing they were all going to be laid off and that the company wasn’t going to compensate them fairly, blocked all of the exits out of the plant. Starnes couldn’t get out.

He told Nightly Business Report that the first few days of confinement were challenging, but the pressure was mostly psychological. “First couple of days were very, very tough. Nothing physical, more mental type stuff going on. Standing around you, anywhere you walk, 14, 16, 18 people following you.”

Starnes, who is a co-owner of Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies, had laid off part of the factory’s workforce and transferred their jobs to India, where he can pay workers lower wages, according to Bloomberg News. Some staffers had gotten severance pay, and the remaining workers started demanding severance, too.

Starnes spent six days in his facility before working out a compensation agreement with the workers even though they hadn’t been laid off, reports The Associated Press. Details of the payments weren’t discussed.

The AP notes that “it is not rare in China for managers to be held by workers demanding back pay or other benefits, often from their Chinese owners. Police are reluctant to intervene, as they consider it a business dispute.”

“I just thought I’d have maybe a little more support on the outside from the local government or something, saying this isn’t the right way, how to get something done,” Starnes told Nightly Business Report.

Some Chinese workers believe direct action is the best way to solve labor matters rather than going through government channels, James Zimmerman, the former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce China told the Wall Street Journal.

“The perception of workers and petitioners in general is that they do not have effective legal remedies to protect their interests, and find that taking action into their own hands gets near-immediate results,” Zimmerman said.

As for Starnes, he plans to rest and “let the dust settle, and we’re going to be rehiring a lot of the previous workers on new contracts as of Friday,” he told the AP. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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