09/04/2012 03:56 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2012

We Must Educate Younger People About Unions

This Labor Day, I want to encourage you to help younger generations better understand why labor unions are so important. Too many people either know very little about unions, or only know what politicians and Fox News tell them.

I joined a union on my very first day on the job as a telephone operator in Akron, Ohio. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Our generation -- and those who came before us -- used our rights at work and in the community to create good jobs and good wages. We helped build strong neighborhoods where you could raise a family.

In my experience, a union is the only way workers can earn good pay and be treated with respect and fairness on the job. It's just too tough any other way. When you look at the powerful interests that workers are up against -- whether it is right-wing politicians or cold-hearted corporations -- you see how badly the deck is stacked against you if you don't have a union.

As union retiree, you can speak firsthand how collective bargaining helps earn the wages and benefits that support families and build strong, stable communities. Collective bargaining directly affects retirement -- the better you work, the better you retire. I worry that decades of low wages, little or no health insurance, and inadequate savings are sowing the seeds for a serious retirement security crisis that will affect everyone in our country.

While some politicians mock unions as a cheap way to score political points, we all know the truth -- collective bargaining is a backbone of the American middle class. We have a lot to be proud of -- so let's get out there and spread the word!

The AFL-CIO and unions such as AFSCME have young worker outreach programs designed to get younger union members more involved. Learn more about the AFL-CIO's outreach with young workers.