ERISA-DOL Says That A Cooperation And Education Trust Fund Is Not A Welfare Benefits Plan For ERISA Purposes

In Advisory Opinion 2012-06A, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) faced the question of whether the Hawaii Laborers’ and Employers’ Cooperation and Education Trust Fund (the “Fund”) is an employee welfare benefit plan (“a welfare benefits plan”) within the meaning of section 3(1) of Title I of ERISA. The Fund was established and is operated as a labor management cooperation committee under section 302(c)(9) of the LMRA.

After reviewing the information and representations provided by the Fund, the DOL concluded that the Fund is not a welfare benefits plan. The Advisory Opinion stated that the language in section 3(1) indicates that, to be a welfare benefits plan, the Fund would have to “provide” benefits to “participants or their beneficiaries” and these benefits must be payable upon a particular occurrence. Here, the only benefits which can be said to be provided by the Fund’s activities accrue generally to the construction industry in Hawaii and participating employers and their covered bargaining unit employees as a whole, rather than to individual participants or beneficiaries. The DOL has concluded that generalized industry and workplace improvements of the sort that may be generated by the activities of a labor management cooperation committee-such as the Fund- are not “benefits” covered by section 3(1) of ERISA.

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