By Lynette Rice
Updated March 30, 2012 at 08:36 PM EDT

History was made in Hollywood today: The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists announced they will officially merge.

AFTRA members gave a thumbs up to the merger by a margin of 86 percent, or 37,000 votes. (A 60 percent threshold was required for passage). Of the 55,000-plus SAG members who voted, 82 percent approved the merger. The results were met with huge cheers at a press conference in Beverly Hills today.

The merger is effective immediately, and encompasses more than 150,000 actors, announcers, broadcasters, journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals.

“Well how ’bout that?” quipped SAG-AFTRA Co-President Ken Howard, as the crowd in attendance began to sing “We Have Overcome.” “So here we are, SAG-AFTRA is born. The very first thing I have to do is to thank and congratulate our members. This simply could not have happened without your support. This is the day we have decisively chosen the path of unity and strength…. This is the culmination of years of work.

“With this overwhelming vote, you have sent a message to our employers,” Howard continued. “You have said loud and clear, this is not a fractured group. This is a united group. This is the largest powerful group in the entertainment industry. We are committed to helping to shape the future of these industries. In a single day, our future has become brighter.”

Added SAG-AFTRA Co-President Roberta Reardon, “it is the culmination of two years of dedication, perseverance and just plain hard work. This merger is something members have wanted and have worked toward for years. As our industry evolves, we can now meet that challenge and manage that change with a strong collective voice.”

A total of 105,000-plus ballots were sent to SAG members while more than 65,000 went out to AFTRA members.