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Members of two of the state's largest health care workers unions have voted overwhelmingly to merge to form the largest such group in the state.

Ninety-seven percent of the votes cast by members of 1199 SEIU and Upstate 1199 were in favor of the merger.

The upstate union voted 5,059 for the merger, and 493 against.

The New York City union voted 27,273 in favor, and 411 against.

The merger will be effective on Jan. 1.

"This is an historic moment for our union," said Dennis Rivera, president of 1199 SEIU, in a statement. "Health care workers will now be stronger because we speak with one voice."

The new union will represent 237,000 health care workers, including 17,000 from the upstate union and 220,000 from the New York City union. The merged union will be called 1199 SEIU New York's Health and Human Service Union.

The unions have been negotiating so that all of its contracts will expire on the same date, April 30, 2005. Bruce Popper, executive vice president of the upstate union, said unifying the union and its contract dates is part of an effort to increase the union's role in the increasingly centralized decision-making of health care.