Coral Springs exec freed from Chinese factory, headed to SoFla.

A Coral Springs businessman held hostage by workers in his Chinese factory for nearly a week was finally freed and expects to arrive home in South Florida late Thursday.

Charles “Chip” Starnes, 42, who had been held at the factory in the Huairou district outside Beijing, 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.”

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Starnes planned to be on a flight from China to Newark, N.J., and then board another plane for South Florida, Cecily Starnes said. He was scheduled to arrive at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shortly before midnight Thursday, she said.

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.”

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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