St. James Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide: Major Events in Labor History and Their Impact

Employee Retirement Income Security Act

Employee Retirement Income Security Act

United States 1974


Most laws relating to private sector pensions in the United States are contained in one of two federal statutes: the Internal Revenue Code and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA was passed in 1974 and has been amended several times. Although ERISA deals with so-called employee welfare plans, including health plans, pension regulations make up the bulk of the law.

ERISA does not require an employer to establish a pension plan, nor does it dictate actual pension benefits. It does, however, subject established pension plans to numerous legal requirements, mainly to ensure that pension plans are used for employee retirement benefits and not exploited by employers. The law is thus part social insurance, part tax law, and part business regulation. ERISA is implemented by several different federal agencies, some of which were created by ERISA itself. Partly because of the law's broad aims and partly because of the complex politics that underlay its enactment, ERISA is a very large and extremely complex law. It was enacted largely as a kind of delayed response to several pension-related scandals, similar to the pension-drenched accounting and business scandals prominent at the beginning of the 2000s and leading to calls for significant changes to ERISA.


  • 1955: African and Asian nations meet at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, inaugurating the "non-aligned" movement of Third World countries.
  • 1965: Power failure paralyzes New York City and much of the northeastern United States on 9 November.
  • 1969: Assisted by pilot Michael Collins, astronauts Neil Arm strong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin become the first men to walk on the Moon (20 July).
  • 1972: On 5 September, Palestinian terrorists kill eleven Israeli athletes and one West German policeman at the Olympic Village in Munich.
  • 1975: Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge launch a campaign of genocide in Cambodia unparalleled in human history. By the time it ends, with the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, they will have slaughtered some 40 percent of the country's population. Cambodia is not the only country to fall to Communist forces this year: the pro-Western governments of South Vietnam and Laos also succumb, while Angola and Mozambique, recently liberated from centuries of Portuguese colonialism, align themselves with the Soviet Bloc.
  • 1975: U.S. Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft link up in space. …