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In his nearly 40-year career, George Cohen says he’s had only two boring days. Maybe that’s because Cohen, a partner at 30-lawyer labor union firm Bredhoff & Kaiser, has represented literally hundreds of athletes, musicians, actors, and others as outside counsel to labor unions in professional sports, the entertainment industry, and the public sector since the 1960s. Now the general counsel of the New York-based American Federation of Musicians (labor unions often name outside lawyers as their general counsel), Cohen, 70, says he’s finally close to retirement, but colleagues say they’ll believe it when they see it. Clients say that Cohen, an easy conversationalist, seems to get what he wants when negotiating on behalf of the union members he’s represented for almost 40 years. “He has such great insight into people and their personalities,” says Thomas Lee, president of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Cohen went straight to the National Labor Relations Board after earning his master’s degree in labor law from Georgetown University in 1960. He served as an attorney-adviser to the board until 1963, and was its appellate court litigation attorney until 1966. That year, he left the board and became just the third lawyer at Bredhoff & Kaiser, where he started out representing the United Steel Workers of America. He soon moved on to police, firefighters, and teachers unions, and later tackled labor issues for airline pilots, flight attendants, and railroad engineers unions. Cohen credits Bredhoff & Kaiser, one of only a few labor union law firms, for much of his success. “We’re the consummate team here,” he says. Indeed, even management-side lawyers praise the firm. “I think the world of the Bredhoff firm,” says Jones Day partner Andrew Kramer. Cohen, who has argued five Supreme Court cases, scored a huge victory on behalf of federal workers in 1974, when he convinced an appeals court judge that President Richard Nixon could not defer pay raises for federal employees, forcing the government to pay out more than $500 million in back pay. In 1981, Cohen argued successfully before the Supreme Court for the AFL-CIO in American Textile Manufacturers Institute Inc. v. Donovan, a case that upheld the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s cotton-dust standard. By then, Cohen was in high demand. In the mid-1980s, he made the switch to professional sports, representing the Major League Baseball Players Association and the NBA Players Association until the late 1990s. Cohen represented baseball players during their 1994 strike. Now Cohen is general counsel of the AFM and special counsel to the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. (Cohen’s children seem to have picked up some of their father’s love of media and entertainment. His son Bruce won the 1999 Academy Award as producer of “American Beauty.” His daughter Julie, a former reporter for Legal Times, is a producer for “Dateline: NBC.”) Cohen actively participates in collective bargaining rounds for the unions he represents. For the AFM, that means negotiating with recording labels, television networks, the symphonic orchestra community, and the motion picture community, among others, on behalf of the musicians in the union. AFM President Lee says that Cohen’s affable nature, combined with his skill as a negotiator, makes him effective at the bargaining table. “It’s enormously important for the negotiator to have the ability to not only understand the issue, but to have the respect of the person who’s on the other side of the table,” says Lee.

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