PEORIA — Caterpillar Inc. employees represented by United Auto Workers almost unanimously approved a strike authorization vote Thursday as contract negotiations continue.

In five UAW locals in the Peoria area and around the country, 93 percent of members approved the strike authorization, according to a statement posted online by a UAW vice president and director.

"Our goal for the current bargaining negotiations is to reach an acceptable agreement without a work stoppage," wrote Norwood Jewell. "However, in the case where a strike may become unavoidable, the membership has voted to authorize said strike by 93 (percent)."

In a separate statement to members, UAW Local 974 President Randy Smith said the company and union had agreed to a media blackout during the bargaining process.

Both sides met for the first time Jan. 4, with a separate meeting with leaders from the locals on Jan. 18., according to bargaining chairman Dave Neulinger. Meetings with the Central Policy Committee are scheduled for February.

The union's contract with Caterpillar expires at the end of the month.

The company has posted significant revenue declines since its peak of more than $66 billion in 2012. Caterpillar forecasts sales and revenue of $37.5 billion in 2017.

Caterpillar this week announced plans to move its global headquarters from Peoria to Chicago as part of a strategy to bolster business growth.

The strike authorization vote is considered a standard practice once bargaining begins as a show of unity among union members.

Matt Buedel is the Journal Star business reporter. He can be reached at 686-3154 and mbuedel@pjstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JournoBuedel.