Striking employes of Continental Telephone Co. of Virginia the state's second-largest telephone utility, are voting on a proposed wage and benefits package that union leaders openly oppose and say offers little hope of ending their 31-day strike.

The balloting began yesterday despite the failure of mediators to reach an agreement between the company and negotiators for the Communications Workers of America. As a result of the strike, more than 600 union members are unemployed and service disruptions have hit 165,000 of Continental's 200,000 Virginia customers.

On Monday, after four days of talks in Richmond, union negotiators walked away from the bargaining table. Ten contract issues remained unsettled, ranging from Continental's three-year salary proposal to job relocation benefits.

Even so, John O'Connell, the union's chief negotiator, decided to send the proposal to union members for a vote. "We [union negotiators] unanimously agree that it is not a good package," said O'Connell. "We hope the members reject the contract as a vote of confidence."

Polling began last night at five locations in Virginia: Prince William County, Virginia Beach, Harrisonburg and Franklin. O'Connell said the decision will be announced by Friday.