The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (also known as ERISA) started in 1974 and is administered by the Federal Government, Department of Labor .
ERISA is supposed to protect our retirement plans, overseeing (to some extent) that the employers fund the plans appropriately.
Unfortunately, in the past few years, we've seen many employers fail with their retirement plans and it does appear that ERISA allowed them to skate past retirement contributions that were due.
ERISA also watches that the retirement plans send out notices on plan features and finances to participants.
Finally, when an employer ends their retirement plan, or goes bankrupt, it's the PBGC (Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp) that pays out retirement payments, not ERISA.