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June 27, 2013

The Associated Press

A U.S. Embassy employee and a Chinese official walk outside the closed gate at a plant where an American was being held.

Boss held captive in China agrees to pay workers

The Associated Press

BEIJING - A U.S. company boss held hostage by his Chinese workers for nearly a week says an agreement has been reached to set him free, and he expects to leave his Beijing plant later Thursday.

Chip Starnes told The Associated Press early Thursday that a deal had been reached to pay the dozens of workers who had demanded generous severance packages -- even though they weren't being laid off.

Some workers had said that when they saw equipment being packed up and itemized for shipping to India last week, they feared the whole medical supply plant was moving. Some said they were owed unpaid salary.

Starnes, a co-owner of Florida-based Specialty Medical Supplies, said he had been forced to give in to their demands. He summed up the past several days as "humiliating, embarrassing, saddened." During his time as hostage, he spoke with reporters through a barred window of his office where he spent much of his time.

"We have transferred our funds from the U.S.," he said Thursday by phone. "I am basically free to go when the funds hit the account here of the company." He declined to say how much.

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.

Starnes previously said the company had been winding down its plastics division, with plans to move it to Mumbai. He arrived in Beijing last week to lay off the last 30 people. Workers in other divisions started demanding similar severance packages on Friday, and after hours of negotiations, about 80 workers stopped him from leaving.





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