“The day that a union gets certified as the exclusive bargaining agent follows almost inevitably after three or six months of a horrific organizing campaign,” George Cohen’57 told students of the Law School’s Labor Law, Practice, and Policy class on October 24. “So now comes the $64 question: If that’s how relationships begin, how are they going to end?”
Cohen, Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), has addressed that question throughout an extensive career as a labor lawyer, negotiator, and mediator. As a senior partner at Bredhoff & Kaiser from 1966 to 2005, he represented labor organizations across a wide variety of industries, including sports, entertainment, steel, airline, and rail, and government entities employing teachers, police, and firefighters. Cohen has argued five landmark labor cases before the United States Supreme Court and more than 100 appellate and federal district court cases. He was listed in Best Lawyers in America for twenty-five consecutive years and has been named a Legend of the DC Bar.
During his presentation to the class, Cohen discussed the work of the FMCS, an independent agency created by Congress in 1947 to preserve and promote labor-management peace and cooperation. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with two regional offices and more than seventy field offices, the FMCS provides mediation and conflict resolution services to industry, government agencies, and communities. As Cohen put it, “We have a variety of models to take [labor-management relationships] from destructive animosity to nirvana.”
“It’s all behavior modification,” he explained, speaking of the techniques FMCS mediators use as they seek to guide parties from contention to problem-solving. Responding to student questions, he also addressed the importance of neutrality and the mixed blessing of the FMCS’s lack of enforcement power.
“Few people can draw on George Cohen’s great wealth of experience as an accomplished practitioner in the field of labor and employment law and as an extraordinarily successful neutral leading the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,” says Professor Angela B. Cornell, director of the Labor Law Clinic, who teaches Labor Law, Practice, and Policy. “He has personally mediated some of the most contentious and high-profile labor disputes in the country, earning the respect of both organized labor and management.”