It's Labor Day, and as you drink in the last few drops of summer, pause to acknowledge ERISA's 38th birthday. (Do this quietly, of course. We don't want your family to think you're totally losing it.)
Signed into law on Labor Day 1974 by President Ford, ERISA was intended to prevent the kind of pension-plan meltdown that occurred when the Studebaker Corporation closed its plant in 1963 and terminated its pension plan, leaving nearly two-thirds of its workers with just a fraction (if any) of the pension benefits they had been promised. But ERISA has grown over the years to mean much more than just pension security. Significant amendments were made by COBRA, HIPAA, and PPACA to regulate health-and-welfare benefits. And the retirement-plan rules have been subject to nearly constant tweaking (think TEFRA, DEFRA, REA, TRA 86, GATT, SBJPA, TRA 97, EGTRRA, PPA - and so much more).
The result is a federal statute that, at the mere utterance of its phonetically pronounced name, can conjure up thoughts and feelings that may be fairly characterized as spanning the range of human emotion. But love it or hate it, it is deeply embedded in the fabric that lines so much of the employer-employee relationship, and it is likely to be a constant presence in our lives for years to come. So at your own time and in your own way, take a moment this Labor Day to raise a glass (or a finger) and salute ERISA - for what it has been, for what it is, and for what it may become.