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As 21,000 grocery workers approach a strike deadline Monday night, union leaders say negotiations Saturday yielded only minimal progress.

Tim Geiger, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, said employers withdrew their proposal to reduce entry-level pay to the minimum wage, now $9.19 an hour, instead of continuing to pay a dime higher. The union seeks a 25-cent differential.

“It’s an odd thing to celebrate,” to stay a dime ahead, he said at a rally in Seattle’s Westlake Park, attended by 80 people.

A strike is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Monday with clerks and meatcutters from Safeway, QFC, Albertsons and Fred Meyer stores in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston and Mason counties.

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In a statement, employers’ negotiator Scott Powers said: “These companies remain focused and committed to reach an agreement that is good for our associates, providing them a solid compensation package of pay and benefits; and good for the companies too, so they can be competitive and continue to provide good, stable jobs.”

Average pay for experienced clerks is $15 an hour, and meatcutters can rise to around $20, but about half the workforce is part time, and it can take eight years to reach the top, Geiger said.

He said employers are trying to shift people who work fewer than 30 hours a week out of a high-quality health plan, and force them to find coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

A larger rally is planned at Westlake at 7 p.m. Sunday.

“The companies can afford to give us what we’re asking for. They just don’t want to do it,” said Vinod Goswami, a Ballard Fred Meyer employee.

“Every time we go to bargaining, our wages are going down, so we are going from the middle class to the poor.”

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