How New York City's Manhole Covers Are Made Is Pretty Unconscionable

New York City is the largest, wealthiest city in the United States of America, the richest, most powerful country in the world. Captains of New York finance move billions with the click of a button, and drive down heralded streets like Fifth Avenue. So why can’t the people who make its manhole covers afford any shoes?


Far be it from me to present myself as any sort of expert on the local Indian economy where New York’s manhole covers are made, but just the trailer for Natasha Reheja’s Cast in India documentary is eye-opening.

Workers pour molten metal into casts, and press the covers down with their feet. Using blowtorches just inches from where they stand, they create the iconic slabs of metal that proclaim NEW YORK CITY SEWER - MADE IN INDIA.

But like I said, New York City is a center for not just wealth, but the wealthy. The mayor immediately preceding the one we’ve got now is worth $40 billion. If the place where we source our manhole covers from aren’t paying workers a wage enough so that they could afford basic safety equipment (and they should, they absolutely should), can’t someone donate some footwear?


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PotbellyJoe and 42 others

Welcome to awarding contracts to the lowest bidder.

I hate to be callous on the issue, but if this firm bought the proper safety equipment, it would get underbid by another firm that didn’t. When you have trade partners who do not have things like OSHA or other oversight groups to protect laborers, this is exactly what happens. If not India, China, if not China, Mauritius, and so on.

Until there is a global, fundamental floor of safety conditions that is established this will continue.

I wouldn’t hold my breath.

So the two solutions, continue the status quo knowing that there are unsafe conditions for workers, or inspect and evaluate all plants that produce goods for us. Inspecting would require man-hours, travel, oversight, regulation, and would also produce more expensive goods.

So the real question is, are we willing to pay the cost it would take for US laborers to make manhole covers for our cities? Because the manufacturing in India and China is not going to be corrected quickly, or cheaply.