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The Supreme Court's decision in J.I. Case Co. v. NLRB provides a unique and telling example of the role of foreign labor law in shaping our own labor law. The central significance of that decision to the structure of our labor law and collective bargaining makes our starting there doubly relevant. The J.I. Case Company had, for a number of years, made uniform written one-year contracts of employment with individual employees each August 1st. These contracts were not the product of any unfair labor practice, nor were they made for the purpose of forestalling unionization or collective bargaining. The United Auto Workers won a representation election and was certified by the National Labor Relations Board as the exclusive bargaining representative of the production and maintenance union, but the company refused to deal with the union in any manner affecting rights and obligations under the existing individual contracts until they expired. The N.L.R.B. found that this amounted to a refusal to bargain collectively in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. When this case came before the Supreme Court, the narrow issue was whether the existence of individual contracts precluded the making of a collective agreement covering the same issues and thereby justified the employer in refusing to bargain collectively concerning those terms until the individual contracts expired. The Court, however, did not limit itself to this narrow and rather easy issue, but addressed itself broadly to the difficult question of the nature of the collective agreement and its relation to the individual contract of employment.
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