Tiffany Figuroa, 30, of Cliffside, New Jersey, enjoys her work as a nanny on the Upper West Side, but says the demands on her time can be overwhelming. Photo: Brett Dahlberg
Nicole Cruz does not know whether she will be able to vote this year. Cruz has been a nanny to the same Upper West Side family since 2011, but voting didn't fit into the family's schedule for her in 2012. She is concerned that she might not be able to cast a ballot this year either.
“I don't know how to ask,” said Cruz, 39, explaining that she would need to arrive to work late or leave early in order to vote. Cruz lives in the Bronx and makes a one-hour and 45-minute commute each way to get to her employers' apartment.
Despite the legislature's 2010 passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, domestic workers still find significant obstacles to casting their ballots, and key government agencies have not targeted election access for protection from interference.
“If you don't get lucky,” said Maria Rodriguez, 57, “you work way too long. They take all your time.”
Rodriguez, who lives in Harlem and is a nanny to a family on the Upper West Side, said she enjoys her job, but also that she is fortunate to have an understanding boss.
Tiffany Figuroa, 30, of Cliffside, New Jersey, takes care of Henry, a 16-month-old boy whose parents live on the Upper West Side. Figuroa has not registered to vote, but even if she had, she expects it wouldn't make a difference. “It's the hours,” she said. “If I don't have time to register, how would I have time to vote?”
Over 200,000 women work in New York State's domestic labor industry, according to Domestic Workers United, a New York City-based advocacy group that works toward what it calls “fair labor standards for domestic workers.”
New York state election law requires employers to grant employees up to two paid hours off work to vote, but many nannies are either unaware of that requirement, or feel unable to take advantage of it.
The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights contains no provisions specific to the right to vote, and the New York State Department of Labor's Manhattan district office directed questions about domestic workers' access to voting to the state's Division of Human Rights. While that agency does protect against discrimination in housing and employment, its mandate on voting is less clear, according to Barbara Klar, the division's outreach and intern coordinator.
“Time off for voting is not covered under our law,” Klar said.
Polling places in New York City will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8. For some nannies, though, there is simply not enough time to both work and vote.
“If you work full-time as a nanny,” said Julia Sclafani, 23, of Washington Heights, “it's more like 50 or 60 hours a week.” Even when working part-time, Sclafani said, she often exceeds 30 hours in a week.
Other nannies, however, work for employers who encourage them to vote. “This will be my first time voting,” said Tina, 26, of Long Island, who declined to give her last name. Daily Lambert, Tina's employer, urged her to say why.
“I just became a citizen,” Tina said, beaming.