08/30/2013 04:23 pm ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Celebrate Labor Day the Right Way: Organize! And Empower Young Workers

On Labor Day, we celebrate the contributions that working people make to our nation. They are immense. On this day, we should reflect on the state of our working class and their access to a safe work environment, fair wages and benefits, and a financially secure retirement.

Labor Day is about more than backyard barbecues. Let's get honest about the fruits of our labor and our quality of life.

Those of us who have a history of being union members know that there is a tangible difference working in an environment where workers have a collective voice and can bargain for wages and benefits versus working in one where that is not the case. It's called "the union difference." Workers joined together in unions are actually able to secure and maintain significantly higher wages, better health insurance and better benefits - including retirement benefits.

That's what fast food workers, Wal-Mart employees and other exploited low-paid workers are currently standing up for. The Occupy movement has died down, but its grassroots message that took the country by storm and whose truth resonated in all of us - that too much of our wealth and power goes to the richest 1% and too little to the rest of us - is critical for us to work to resolve. The decline of workers' collective voice in unions brought us stagnant wages and weakened benefits in both our working years and retirement.

American workers have been under a constant barrage of attacks from the media and politicians, telling lie after lie to maintain the status quo and to disempower working people from exercising their rights. That's why it's so important for retirees to engage with younger generations about just how important unions are to this country.

Workers united in unions are vitally important to ensuring a secure retirement. One very negative trend in retirement today is that fewer and fewer employers provide defined benefit pension plans to their employees. Workers who are not united in a union are far less likely to have access to a defined benefit pension plan. If more workers had a strong voice at work, they could also have stronger retirement security options.

Retirees have joined forces with a broad coalition of workers, union members and community groups to protect Social Security, another vital component of a secure retirement, and to ensure that it is secure for current retirees and future generations alike. This July 2nd, the Alliance for Retired Americans and allies held over 50 "human chain" events around the country to oppose the chained CPI cut to Social Security benefits. These events were covered on television stations and in newspapers across the country. When we come together around a common goal, we get things done.

Long before Coal Miner's Daughter became the name of a hit movie, it was the story of my life and how I was raised. I grew up hearing about life in the mines and watching workers stand together for what was right. Today, far fewer young people grow up learning about unions and how joining together with a collective voice means improving the quality of life and achieving more for the middle class. It's important to share our personal stories with younger generations and to share how we made improvements for our lives and our families.

This Labor Day, I hope you take a moment to honor those who came before you and consider how you can inspire and support younger generations in their struggles for justice at work and for their future retirement.