Issue: Winter 2021

A Few Words from Incoming Union & Employee Co-Chair John Harney

By: John R. Harney, O’Donoghue & O’Donoghue, LLP, Washington, D.C.

I am humbled and honored to have become the Union & Employee Co-Chair of the Employee Benefits Committee, effective September 2020. I stand on the shoulders of those who have preceded me, most recently Ben Eisner, whose leadership has been crucial to the success the EBC has enjoyed these last three years. He set a daunting standard to follow. I look forward to working with my fellow Co-Chairs, Cassie Ayeni, Aliya Robinson and Joanne Roskey to build on their work and that of prior Co-Chairs and EBC members who have made this dynamic Committee so successful.

We live in interesting times. We are beset by a global pandemic, a struggling economy, and the legacy of a history of racism. This year, we saw the limits of our healthcare system as it struggled to address COVID-19. To protect the public health, many businesses closed or moved to operate remotely causing economic dislocation for many Americans. The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this spring revealed that America has not been absolved of its original sin and has led many Americans to face up to the impact of racism in our society.

With these many challenges, many of our clients are facing problems that require the knowledge and expertise of EBC members to find solutions that will provide access to healthcare, retirement security and economic well-being for the many constituencies we serve in our practices. Our practice is in a unique position to address many of these issues facing our nation today.

I attended my first Midwinter Meeting in the early 2000s and felt welcomed into a very special group of people. The Committee was much smaller then – participants sat in a large circle – but the quality of the presentations, the depth of the discussion and the camaraderie among participants of all constituencies were exceptional, and they remain so today. The Committee has given me the opportunity to meet and interact with the best employee benefits lawyers in the country. It has afforded me many opportunities for professional growth, including speaking at Midwinter Meetings and other conferences, developing our law student outreach program, teaching, working on the Employee Benefits Law treatise and having the ability to pick up the phone and call other Committee members to discuss a legal issue.

The Committee serves its members extraordinarily well and the challenging times in which we find ourselves requires us to build on what we have developed. Employee benefits law continues to expand, both through the enactment of new laws and the creative use of existing ones. We need to provide opportunities for our diverse group to develop skills and leadership that will take us past the current difficulties by encouraging both new and old members to work with us. We also need to continue to grow the Committee and keep it a welcoming place for diverse members from all constituencies. I know my fellow Co-Chairs would join me in urging you to help us meet those goals by providing your ideas to us and engaging actively in the Committee’s work.

So, in a winter marked by social distancing, remote work and a dearth of opportunities to meet and share experiences, I leave you with a quote from Seamus Heaney: “If we winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.” Once we have wintered this one out, I look forward to summering anywhere with all of you in the near future.