An International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union group at the Central Moloney plant here moved a step closer to a strike with a Thursday vote approving a walkout.

An International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union group at the Central Moloney plant here moved a step closer to a strike with a Thursday vote approving a walkout.

Local 1658 President Charles West said the transformer wing union, which counts about 310 members, could initiate a strike “within days.”

The union voted 112-26 to strike after the company, founded in 1949, recently declared an impasse in negotiations and began implementing opposed contract changes.

The local will send a certified letter informing union management of the strike decision Friday. If IBEW leadership endorses the strike, a walkout would be immediate, West said.

Among the points of contention between the union and company are:

• Hourly employees won’t receive all the benefits offered to salaried workers.

• Proposed salary hikes over the next three years won’t match standard cost-of-living increases. The company offers no salary increase for 2012 and only 2 and 3 percent increases, respectively, for 2013 and 2014.

• Company contributions to workers’ pension funds are currently fixed at $18.50 a month for each year of employment, limited to 20 years. The company is proposing no increase for 2012, 50 cents a month for 2013, and $1 a month is 2014. The union wants more.

• The union wants to maintain collective bargaining rights as outlined in the old contract. The company is proposing a reduction in some job transfer options in favor of quicker dismissal procedures.

• Health insurance eligibility changes, policies’ deductible and out-of-pocket expenses, and company profit requirements on collected premiums “will probably make coverage unaffordable to many employees and their families.”

“We would prefer not to have to go on strike, but the company has to be willing to compromise,” said West. “We know that a strike would have a big effect on the entire community, but it may be our only recourse.

“The company simply isn’t budging on anything,” he continued. “It’s firm against the union and doesn’t believe we’ll actually go on strike, but we may not have any other option.”

West said Central Moloney, which supplies distribution transformers throughout the world, has about 500 employees overall and probably wouldn’t be able to continue operations if a strike occurs. “I don’t think they can function without us,” said West. “We need them and they need us, plain and simple. I’ll feel bad for everyone if the strike occurs.”

West said morale among employees at the plant was “low” before the latest contract offer from the company, “but it’s terrible now.”

He said strikers will be without any income or supplemental funds for the duration of their holdout. “But we’ve been anticipating this possibility for a while and have been encouraging members to save some money in case a strike occurred,” he said. “We are prepared to strike, but we’re also prepared to compromise.”

Central Moloney Vice President Chris Hart, who is chairman of the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce, has pointed out that the company has never experienced a “work stoppage.” He also believes the current contract offer puts the company “in the best position to continue serving its employees, customers and partnering firms.”