Critical thinking is an important skill that will help guide a person in making quality decisions. However, the ability to think critically does not come easy for many people. This is because the ability to think and come up with the most effective and most helpful solution or insight regarding a particular issue is something that can only be achieved by practice and constant learning about the process of critical thinking. One of the most important habits of a critical thinker is the predisposition to ask the right questions that can draw important information that in turn can help in the decision-making process. Authors Browne and Keely developed a system that will help critical thinkers draw relevant information from reading material. They were able to refine this critical thinking model by breaking it down into eleven steps, and these steps come in the form of a question. The following is an attempt to analyze a business document using these principles.
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What are the issue and conclusions?
The issue is rooted in the letter sent by Governor Sally Bernstein notifying the Federated State Employees Union Local No. 343 that the state’s DoT information systems management function will be privatized and outsourced and as a result union members will be offered similar positions in other departments within the executive branch of government as vacancies arise due to attrition. The issue was clarified even further by the assertion that the proposal is an assault on the union and it will set a bad precedent that will affect the future of the union.
Therefore, the one who prepared the memo concluded that FSEU Local No. 343 should challenge the governor’s proposed privatization of the DoT information systems management function because it is considered an unfair management practice. It was also pointed out the certainty that the members of the union will lose their jobs because of the government’s drive to achieve efficiency although there is nothing in the proposal that can compel the leaders of the union to agree with them. The one who wrote the memo also pointed out that this action is a potential violation of the Pendleton Act of 1883. Thus, it was suggested that if the governor was intent on saving money then it would be better for her to abandon an expensive and wasteful project of hers – the construction of a new convention center.
What are the reasons?
The one who prepared the memo as well as the leaders of the union were convinced that the proposal to privatize the information systems management function within the DoT will greatly affect the livelihood of 43 members of the FSEU Local 343. The leaders of the union believed that privation will require outsourcing these jobs to foreign agents, an action that will set the stage for the decrease in employee wages in the future because outsourcing and privatization are automatically given to foreign companies specializing in business outsourcing and employees working for these companies will readily accept lower wages as compared to their U.S. counterparts such as the members of the union. It was also pointed out that this is a potential violation of the Pendleton Act of 1883. More importantly, this will start a chain-reaction of events that will lead to a recession because it was argued that outsourcing is the cause of the current recession.
Another reason for opposing the proposal was the fear that those who will be displaced by privatization will eventually be fired because there is no assurance that there will be suitable vacancies available in sufficient numbers that can absorb the movement of workers from one department to the next. Thus, the leaders of the union were fully convinced that what will happen is that displaced workers will be a force to learn new jobs or “relearn” their jobs in a new environment. According to them, this is just a ploy to drive out experienced old workers who are unwilling to learn new jobs.
What words or phrases are ambiguous?
In strengthening its arguments against the proposed privatization of one portion of the DoT, the memo writer used ambiguous words and phrases that in his mind bolstered his argument especially if the one reading the memo has the same mindset and agrees with his reasoning. The first ambiguous word that was used is that the proposal is seen as anti-American. This was followed up by another statement that claims to explain why it is anti-American: foreign agents will bid for this privatization contract. The bidding of a contract by a firm based outside the United States does not automatically mean that this management practice will be anti-American.
It was also pointed out that this proposal must be opposed because it is an example of arbitrary and capricious acts of management and then turned around to say that civil servants must be hired and retained based on merit. This one statement alone is full of ambiguous words and phrases. How can a person identify what is an arbitrary act of management, what is the basis for saying so? What is the basis for saying that the action was capricious or what does it mean to be arbitrary and capricious in the first place? On the other hand, there was also ambiguity in the part wherein the leaders of the union tried to explain why their members must not be and cannot be displaced, citing the Pendleton Act of 1883 they said that employees must be hired and retained based on merit. Now, one has to ask how merit is determined.
What are the value assumptions and conflicts?
A major assumption that can be found in the memo is the assertion that privatization and outsourcing automatically mean outsourcing to foreign agents. There was not enough information given to make this a foregone conclusion. For the sake of argument let it be known that indeed privatization, in this case, requires the use of foreign agents, then another major assumption is detected. It is the assumption that it will set a bad precedent and, as a result, will drive down the wages of employees in the future. This will result in a recession. And since there is a recession then there will be fewer jobs and therefore the displaced workers who happen to be members of the union will be out of work. And finally, it was assumed that by saying yes to this proposal the union will appear weak to the management, and they will be vulnerable in future negotiations.
These assumptions led to the generalization that these practices are not only capricious and arbitrary but also anti-American. According to them the said proposal will hurt the economy in the long run. It was also assumed that the government and leaders of DoT were intent on driving out old and experienced workers. There is the assumption that old and experienced workers are more expensive to retain therefore they have to be transferred to another department or released from employment. The leaders of the union wanted their members to stay in the job as long as they can.
What are the descriptive assumptions?
The leaders of the union believed that the government and the executives at DoT are working closely together to increase efficiency and save money at the expense of old and experienced workers. They believe that the government and the DoT will stop at nothing to achieve their goals regardless if they have to perform “arbitrary and capricious” to facilitate the displacement of workers and implement the privatization of the information management system of the DoT.
They also assumed that the purpose of outsourcing firms was to create an undesirable working environment that will force employers to reduce the wages of their workers to compete with those who use outsourcing firms to reduce costs. This is seen to create a chain-reaction of events that will surely lead to recession. But they did not consider fully well the argument of the governor regarding the need to reduce costs and that outsourcing is not only a viable but a fair business practice that will be beneficial in the long run. No effort was given to analyze carefully if there will be available jobs for displaced workers and instead the leaders of the union immediately condemned the proposal as unfavorable to them.
Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?
The first fallacy in reasoning is the statement that says outsourcing to foreign agents is anti-American. It is an attempt to create sympathy from the other leaders of the union and to impact the hearts and minds of the workers. The proposal to give their jobs to foreigners is unthinkable, and therefore no label can be used except the accusation that the governor is anti-American. The second fallacy in reasoning is seen in how the memo writer linked outsourcing to recession without providing any proof or basis whatsoever to that particular claim.
The third fallacy in reasoning is that the proposal constitutes a violation of the Pendleton Act of 1883 – there was no clear argument given as to why this is so. And finally, the fourth fallacy in reasoning is that the memo was geared towards one goal, and it is to convince the members of the union that they will lose their job. This is the only way that the argument using the Pendleton Act of 1883 can become a valid argument. This is because this law can only be enforced if there was an arbitrary or capricious act such as the dismissal of an employee without reason. However, the governor made it clear that no worker will be fired, they will only be transferred to another department.
How good is the evidence?
There was no factual evidence that was used to support the claim that the workers will eventually end up unemployed. It was based on the assumption and personal experience that the memo writer had with a brother-in-law whose company was downsized and remains unemployed. There was an immediate conclusion made based on that experience alone even if there is no connection with the present case. For example, the brother-in-law was not working in a government agency that was under the authority of the governor, therefore, there is no way to predict what will happen to the DoT based on the events that transpired in another unrelated company in Michigan.
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There was also no factual evidence that outsourcing will create a recession or that it will eventually lower the wages of the workers under the DoT. There was also no evidence given that by saying yes to the proposal they will appear weak and no longer can negotiate with the management of DoT in the future.
Are there any rival causes?
There is indeed a rival reason as to why the governor proposed the privatization and outsourcing of the information management system function of the DoT. One possible rival cause is that it will free up the resources of the state that will, in turn, create more opportunities for the people who are under that state. This means that through the wise management of resources the fears of the union leaders will not materialize. Instead of a recession, there will be a booming economy because wastage was prevented and money that was saved can be reinvested to improve the services of the government and even potentially create more jobs.
Are the statistics deceptive?
Union leaders pointed out to the 20% added cost of overseeing third-party contractors. This is a deceptive statistic because it was taken from an article found in the Wall Street Journal, but there was no explanation of what type of organization had this level of added cost. Secondly, what is 20% of what? It was not clear where this number came from. For this statistic not to be deceptive, the writer of the memo should produce real numbers such as the exact amount that is spent to oversee third-party contractors.
What significant information has been omitted?
There was no mention as to the potential of DoT that need not worry about training their old workforce so that they can keep up to date with regards to new technology. There was not enough information given to the positive impact of new technology and the use of updated hardware and software as the result of privatization and outsourcing. There was no mention as to the opportunities that are possible if the state can save money through outsourcing.
What reasonable conclusions are possible?
The state has good reason to privatize and outsource while union leaders are paranoid and always worried about a non-existent conspiracy that is out to destroy the union and to defraud its members. The union must stop acting only for their benefit. They have to understand that the economy and the current recession is not the result of outsourcing but the byproduct of selfish leaders who only wanted to protect their selfish interests. It is time to work together. There is great potential that can be had by having a vastly improved information management system at the disposal of the DoT. This does not only mean savings but also improving the lives of the people within and outside the DoT.
Browne, M. N., & Keeley, S.M. (2010). Asking the right questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking. 8th edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.