New York, NY – Robert Kelley, VP of Stations Department at TWU Local 100, is responsible for about 5,600 workers. When Covid-19 hit last year, the 50-ish father of five and grandfather of nine from the Bronx was on the front lines taking care of those workers as fears of infection swept through the ranks.
“I’m responsible for Station Agents, Cleaners, Supply Logistics, and Collectors [those who bring in money from the stations],” Kelley says. “All these people have a high rate of exposure to the public.”
Kelley, however, stayed on the front lines with his fellow TWU Local 100 members despite the risks.
“I was out there working among members,” he says. “I was there for 19- to 20-hours-a-day. At the time, no one really knew what this thing was and what it was about. The Transit Authority was discouraging people from wearing masks, saying that doing so would lead to the likelihood of them touching their faces when adjusting the masks. They didn’t protect us.”
Kelley became gravely ill three months into the pandemic. On March 30, 2020 he tested positive for Covid-19.
“I was sick for one-and-a-half months and hospitalized for three weeks,” he says. Kelly also contracted Covid-19 pneumonia. “The pneumonia comes with this monster. It has no cure. Your body has to fight it without antibiotics. It continues to spread. I just fought it until it cleared up.”
In the hospital, Kelley was put in the “blue room” where he was surrounded by “nothing but gurneys” and tiny windows that allowed in the only available light. There were times, Kelley says. when “dead bodies were all around me.”
The situation became so grave that doctors told Kelley because of the pneumonia, he was less likely to make it. He suffered feverish nights, sometimes sweating through five different sets of bedclothes he’d continually have to remove. Kelley believes the activity just might have helped save him.
“I kept moving and fighting,” he says.
Astonishingly, Kelley was back at work a day after being released from the hospital. Should they get sick, Kelley hopes members of his own family receive the kind of care he had.
“There’s no place to hide [with this virus],” he says. “And I’d do it all over again for my members.”