Gym In Washington State Fined Nearly $10k Per Day For Defying COVID-19 Orders

The owner of a gym in Graham, Washington, has vowed to remain open despite a series of hefty fines levied by the state for disobeying Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s restrictions intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

According to the News Tribune, “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.” The outlet described the penalty as the state’s “largest pandemic fine to date,” noting that the total breaks down to $9,639 per day.

“They can fine me whatever they want,” owner Michael Knick told the News Tribune on Friday. “I don’t have it.”

As the News Tribune reported, Gov. Inslee’s restrictions prohibit indoor gyms and fitness centers from operating, and:

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.” …

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.

According to Knick, his gym has some coronavirus protocols in place, but does not require members to wear face coverings. Knick said he believes the state agency targeted his business because he has collaborated with the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit that has filed lawsuits in Washington and other states in response to overreaching coronavirus mitigation policies.

In a recent press release, the organization’s national director compared Gov. Inslee to a fictional Dr. Seuss character, the Grinch, claiming he is “trying to cancel Christmas and New Years for millions of families and businesses.”

Inslee recently extended Washington’s enhanced COVID-19 rules until at least January 4.

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

The Freedom Foundation helped Mr. Knick publicize his situation and pledged to stand by “brave business owners against destructive government by bureaucrats who haven’t had to miss a paycheck.”

In a video uploaded to the Freedom Foundation’s YouTube channel earlier this month, Knick said that Inslee’s directive has been “detrimental to a lot of the mom-and-pop shops” in the state. He urged the governor to “take a big step back and look at all the damage you’re doing and all the people that you’re hurting.”

“If the government comes and forces me to close, they could take me to jail,” he said in the video. “They could give us a bunch of fines. We’re not too worried about that. They can fine me $1 million a day. What does it matter if my business is going to shut down if I shut down?”

On Friday, Knick told the News Tribune: “I guess I’ll just have to go bankrupt and open up as another LLC and play the game.”

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