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Senate overwhelmingly passes railroad agreement to avert holiday season strike

The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed legislation to head off a looming railway strike, ending a major labor battle that had dragged on for months, threatening to plunge the freight industry into nationwide chaos. 

Voting 80-15, lawmakers from both parties approved a bill forcing railroad owners and workers to abide by a Biden administration-negotiated agreement made in September which had ultimately been rejected by a number of railroad labor unions over concerns about paid sick leave and work conditions. An effort to amend the bill to include one week of paid medical leave in the ultimate agreement was defeated on Thursday by a vote of 52-43 — well below the requisite 60-vote threshold — with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) the sole Democrat to oppose the measure. 

President Biden, who had previously vowed to be the "most pro-union president" in American history, had urged Congress to pass the bill, despite union furor over government usurpation of a labor dispute in order to force an agreement rejected by many of the affected workers. 

"As a proud pro-labor president, I am reluctant to override the ratification procedures and the views of those who voted against the agreement," Biden said in a statement this week. "But in this case — where the economic impact of a shutdown would hurt millions of other working people and families — I believe Congress must use its powers to adopt this deal."