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Groups rally for ballot questions on casino repeal, sick time

Clergy led a “Yes For Justice” prayer rally at Harvard’s Memorial Church on Wednesday.
Clergy led a “Yes For Justice” prayer rally at Harvard’s Memorial Church on Wednesday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — Clergy, academics, and other advocates urged support on Wednesday for ballot questions that would repeal the state casino law and provide many workers with paid sick time, asserting that the measures would protect the state's most vulnerable residents.

The religious and community leaders spoke during an interfaith prayer service at Harvard's Memorial Church, which was organized by the "Yes for Justice" campaign, a coalition of groups backing the November ballot questions.

"Evil is not going to come through to our community, to our people while we breathe," said Imam Sherif Shabaka. "Bring people with you on [Election Day] and say yes to" Question 3, the proposed casino repeal.

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The Rev. Luther Zeigler, Harvard's Episcopal chaplain, sounded arguments frequently voiced by casino critics, insisting that the industry preys on the poor and fosters crippling gambling addictions while selling the "false hope" of job creation and an economic boost.

"Please do not believe these promises," he said.

Harvey Cox, a Harvard Divinity School professor, also offered pointed remarks, telling the crowd of roughly 70 people that the casino industry is lying about state revenue projections and will cannibalize small businesses.

He said the industry presents a "lethal danger to our communities, to our families, and to our Commonwealth."

The political committee opposing the casino repeal measure, which would ban the industry from the state and invalidate the casino licenses that have been either awarded or promised in Greater Boston and Western Massachusetts, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

But repeal opponents, which include casino industry representatives and unions, have repeatedly trumpeted the benefits they say expanded gaming would bring to Massachusetts, including thousands of jobs and revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.

Attendees were equally passionate Wednesday in their support for Question 4, the sick time initiative.

Lewis Finfer of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, which backs the sick time question, told the crowd that nearly 1 million state residents do not have sick days to take care of themselves or loved ones.

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As a result, he said, low-wage workers often must send sick children to school or return to work before their injuries or illnesses have fully healed. Passing the ballot question, he said, will change that.

"Are we going to fight for our brothers and sisters?" he asked, prompting enthusiastic shouts in the affirmative from attendees. Finfer's group takes no formal stance on casino repeal.

The Rev. Francisco Anzoategui of St. Stephen Parish in Framingham also lamented the plight of workers without sick time. "Tragically, many are forced to send a sick child to school, to save their income or jobs," he said.

Under the sick-time initiative, employees working for companies with 11 or more workers would earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time in a year for time off to deal with their health or that of a loved one.

People working for smaller companies could earn and use the same amount of unpaid time. Employees would earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked and begin using that time after a 90-day probationary period.

Bill Vernon of the No on 4 Committee, which opposes the ballot question, said in a statement that his group does not oppose sick leave as part of a compensation package. However, he said, the group opposes what he described as the initiative's overly rigid mandates that do not account for the size of a business or industry.

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He said the proposal would make it harder for younger and inexperienced workers to find jobs. "The most rigid sick leave law in the country would, if passed, be one more 'Massachusetts-only' rule that slows job growth among our job creators — small businesses, particularly for those workers most in need of economic opportunities," he said.

Advocates for passage of the two questions were bolstered Wednesday by a little star power from comedian Jimmy Tingle, a Roman Catholic who noted that Pope Francis regularly voices support for the poor and the marginalized. "If Pope Francis was here tonight, he would be standing with us," he said.

The other two questions going to the voters on Nov. 4 would end gas tax indexing and expand the state bottle law.


Mark Arsenault and Akilah Johnson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.