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Pushing a likely futile labor bill in a hostile Congress

A bill reintroduced on Capitol Hill this week that would protect low-wage workers from erratic schedules stands little chance of being enacted by the Republican-led Congress. But that isn't dissuading its sponsors and labor activists from vigorously promoting the measure, even while acknowledging the long odds.

"I know it's not easy to get anything passed in Washington -- I do have my eyes open on this. But you can't win what you don't fight for," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Other sponsors of the Schedules That Work Act were equally open about the measure's chances.

"This is about changing laws, but this is also about changing practices, calling out the worst actors, insisting that they do better," said Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, also a Democrat.

One of the practices being targeted is on-call scheduling, where corporations require workers be available for shifts that can then be canceled with little notice and no pay.

Roughly a dozen states and a few municipalities have passed legislation addressing the issue, and some companies are pulling the plug on on-call scheduling. Victoria's Secret is said be making this move as well as it faces a legal challenge in California and a probe in New York.

The chronicling of a Starbucks (SBUX) worker's plight by The New York Times last year led the company to make changes, which included ended the practice of "clopening," in which a worker responsible for closing a store late at night was also in charge of opening early the next day.

The New York state attorney general's office in April sent letters to Victoria's Secret and 12 other retailers seeking information about their scheduling practices.

And San Francisco this month began enforcing an ordinance that requires major retailers give at least 24 hours notice to workers when changing or canceling shifts, or give them at least two hours of pay.

The issues involve primarily target low-income workers in the retail and fast-food industry.

Beyond the havoc created for parents struggling with child care and other family issues, on-call scheduling can also impair workers' ability to go to school or to plan financially because their hours fluctuate from week to week.

"This is about basic fairness," Warren said. "A single mom should know if her hours have been canceled before she arranges for daycare and drives halfway across town. Someone who wants to go to school to try to get an education should be able to request more predictable hours without getting fired just for asking. And a worker who is told to wait around on call for hours with no guarantee of actual work should get something for his time."

The measure and labor issues at large could also loom large in the presidential campaign, with Hillary Clinton calling out fair scheduling in a speech in New York on Monday.

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