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US executive freed after reaching a deal with Beijing employees

By: Steve Toloken

June 26, 2013

The American medical plastics executive who had been detained in his factory in Beijing by workers has been freed today and is on his way back to the United States.

Chip Starnes, a co-founder of Coral Springs, Fla.-based Specialty Medical Supplies, told the Associated Press that the company agreed to pay workers who were demanding compensation after the company said it was laying off about 30 employees in its plastics division and moving those jobs to India.

Since last Friday, about 80 workers, many of whom were apparently not losing their jobs, had prevented Starnes from leaving his office in a dispute they said was about back wages owed to them and fears that the company was relocating the entire factory to India.

But Starnes said the dispute was driven by workers who were not losing their jobs – most of the factory's jobs were remaining in Beijing – but who wanted to receive payments similar to the severance packages the laid off workers will receive.

Speaking earlier this week in a video interview with the AFP news service through the bars on his office window, Starnes said that the dispute was close to ending.

"I don't think I will be released until an actual settlement comes into play and monetary transfers have taken place," he said. "It's been OK. The last few days have been fine. The first two days were rough. Hopefully we're going to get to an end here soon."

Starnes told the AP that he would re-hiring some of the workers holding him and restarting Beijing operations.

"We're going to take Thursday off to let the dust settle, and we're going to be rehiring a lot of the previous workers on new contracts as of Friday," he said.

AP said workers representatives could not be reached.

According to the SMS website, the Beijing factory has injection molding capability and manufactures blood glucose monitoring systems, plastic lancets for drawing blood, insulin syringes and alcohol pads, among others.

The company said it plans to keep the alcohol pad manufacturing in China but move the plastics division to India.

SMS was founded in 1999 and manufactures all of its products in China, according to the company's website.