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WASHINGTON — A union representing about 40,000 railroad employees nationwide has voted to merge with the Teamsters.

Members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees approved the merger, with 76 percent voting in favor, the unions announced Wednesday.

BMWE represents workers who build, maintain, inspect and repair the tracks, bridges and other railroad infrastructure throughout North America.

In Nebraska, the union represents about 2,000 track maintenance employees of the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads, said David Joynt, general chairman of the Burlington system's division of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way employees. His office is in Hastings.

"We certainly are looking forward to being associated with the Teamsters and being able to deliver better contracts for our members," Joynt said.

As recently as 2002, the maintenance union rejected a merger with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. Joynt said the maintenance of way employees felt that union had too little presence in the railroad industry.

The Teamsters presence in railroads is already larger.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, with about 30,000 members nationwide, merged with the Teamsters in January.

There are big advantages to joining the Teamsters, said Bill Palmer of Falls City, a member of the maintenance union's executive board and general chairman of the Missouri Pacific Federation, which represents employees now working for the Union Pacific.

"Strength in numbers, of course," Palmer said. "It strengthens our political base, our legal base, the educational work, our organizational ability. We can combine and put together so many offices, so it's a financial boon. That's just off the top of my head."

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said the merger keeps the nation's largest union on its course.

"As did my father, I have envisioned one union representing all transportation workers — roads to rails, ports to planes — that would provide workers with real power on the job and in the political arena," Hoffa said. "This historic merger brings us closer to our vision."

BMWE President Freddie Simpson will be president of the Teamsters' rail division. The Teamsters has 1.4 million members.

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