It is day five of captivity for Chip Starnes, the 42-year-old CEO of Florida-based company Specialty Medical Supplies. News broke yesterday that Starnes was being held in one of the company’s medical supply factories in suburban Beijing because roughly 80 disgruntled employees barricaded him in a factory building over their pay.
Production at the factory has ceased over the past few days because employees are busy keeping their boss detained until their demands are met. A prisoner of his staff, Starnes is being asked by the dozens of employees to match a severance compensation package that was awarded to a group of recently laid-off employees. The demands for the undisclosed amount by the workers followed rumors that the entire plant, which had been slowly down-sizing and slowing production, would soon be closing altogether.
Chu Lixiang, a local union official, has spoken out on the situation, representing the group of disgruntled employees who have taken Starnes hostage. Chu told reporters from the Associated Press that the workers’ demands are a portion of their salaries that they have yet to receive and a “reasonable” level of compensation before leaving their jobs. Chu said that rumors that suggested that the company was moving their production of supplies to Mumbai, India, worried them. They believed that Starnes would close the factory and run away without paying anyone severance.
Starnes did say the company had a plan to whittle down the factory’s plastics division, which would move to Mumbai. He arrived in Beijing last week to lay off the last 30 people of the department, but had no intention of firing any additional employees on the trip, which is why he is refusing severance pay.
People on China’s most popular social media platform, Weibo, have sounded off on the story as it gains attention in the media. After many high-profile stories on abuses at Foxconn, a Chinese-based company that provides parts and assembly for several technology companies including Apple, Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), many netizens wonder if Starnes' company will follow the same path. “Wonder if we have another Foxconn on our hands, speculation of workers being unpaid? Hmm, this time they are fighting back,” one blogger wrote. “This is pretty desperate. They would rather take it in their own hands like this, than pursue legal means. Is this going to be effective?” another wondered.
Others noted that this could just be the start of an exodus of companies from China. “It’s a fact we should face, manufacturing will slow, people will lose jobs. Will we see hostages in every case?” a blogger wrote.