Defiant Graham gym hit with state’s biggest COVID-19 violation fine: $9,639 per day

Defiant Graham gym hit with state’s biggest COVID-19 violation fine: $9,639 per day
An order to cease operations was taped onto the door of Graham Fitness earlier this month by a Department of Labor & Industries official. (Department of Labor & Industries)

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The state has levied its largest pandemic fine to date against a Graham gym that is defying Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Graham Fitness was hit with eight violations totaling $77,112 by the state Department of Labor & Industries on Friday for violating the Safe Start mandate to close up shop.

Owner Michael Knick is operating the business and vows to keep it open, despite the fines which amount to $9,639 per day. Other businesses have been fined the same amount per day but Graham’s Fitness is the largest total amount.

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“They can fine me whatever they want,” Knick said Friday. “I don’t have it.”

The gym was ordered to close and cease operations on Dec. 2. L&I issued an order and notice of immediate restraint to the business after complaints were received in late November, according to L&I spokesman Tim Church.

The daily fines issued Friday cover Nov. 30-Dec. 7 and are L&I’s next step in getting Knick to shut his business down.

“These are citations and fines for violations that occurred,” Church said Friday. “He had employees and continued to be open, putting them at risk.”

The governor’s Safe Start orders prohibit gyms and fitness centers from operating. Knick says he’ll go out of business if he’s forced to close.

“I’m just a little guy trying to survive here, getting smashed by the the non-constitutional respecting government,” he said.

On Dec. 6, Knick posted on social media that he no longer had employees working at the gym. The gym employs 15 people, all of whom were at home with pay Friday, Knick said. That means he doesn’t fall under L&I’s jurisdiction, he said Friday.

Last week, Knick said he and the business take precautions against spreading COVID-19. Those include the use of hand sanitizer and equipment wash downs, but he does not enforce the use of masks at Graham Fitness.

Knick speculated that L&I was going after him because he enlisted the help of the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been vocal in its opposition to Inslee’s Safe Start mandate and is a critic of the state Department of Health’s approach to the pandemic.

“They’re not gonna give 100% of small businesses fines,” Knick said of L&I. “But, if there’s only one or two of us that stick our neck out there, they’re gonna try and make examples out of us.”

L&I said it will be working with the state attorney general’s office and Inslee’s office to determine if further action is needed, Church said.

“I guess I’ll just have to go bankrupt and open up as another LLC and play the game,” Knick said.