ERLANGER, Ky. (AP) — Workers at Toyota's largest plant in the United States will have to start paying a premium from each paycheck to insure spouses, domestic partners or families, the company said.
The move, which takes effect next year, is part of an initiative by Toyota to align the benefits at the plant in central Kentucky with many of its other North American plants, where employees already pay premiums. Employees at the Georgetown plant also would have higher copays and deductibles under the plan.
The company said it is planning for the future to ensure that health care costs are managed and won't drag down the business.
''We've always talked about the long-term perspective and that we would try to manage the company with the idea that the most important outcome we can have for our people is stable employment,'' said Pete Gritton, vice president of human resources for Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, which is based in Erlanger and oversees the Georgetown plant.
Company officials started announcing the changes in a series of meetings Tuesday. The additional costs have been accepted by some employees, but have drawn the ire of those in favor of forming a union.
In the less expensive of the two new plans, employees choosing couples coverage will pay $5 each paycheck, while family coverage will cost $10. Workers are paid every two weeks.
''While it's certainly money, we think it's a minimum amount of money and very competitive when you look at what other people are having to pay for their premiums,'' Gritton said.
Under the current plan, only the less comprehensive of the two plans was free. A deluxe plan and HMO required premiums.
The new plan also raises in-network physician-visit copays from $10 to $15 and specialists from $20 to $25.
Tim Unger, an 18-year veteran, questioned the need for higher rates since Toyota earlier this month announced record profits of $4.1 billion in the April to June quarter, a 32.3 percent increase year-over-year. ''How do you justify dipping into people's pockets and taking chump change, basically?'' Unger said.
Unger and others in the plant have organized a series of events this year calling for their fellow workers to support unionization.
Toyota says the vast majority of its 7,000 or so workers see no need for a union.
Marvin Robbins, an anti-union assembly line member and seven-year employee of the plant, said he understood the need for the premium increase. ''Do I expect them to keep footing the bill for me? No,'' he said.
Gritton said Thursday that he understands that higher insurance rates at a time of record profits can be ''a tough sell with some people.''
But insurance costs have risen quickly, he said, noting Toyota's health care costs have doubled in the last seven years.
''We can do a little bit now and ensure a good future,'' he said of the increases. ''Or we can wait until we're about to go under and then do something drastic. I really believe it's better to take the slow, steady approach that Toyota's always taken.''