Members of the American Federation of Government Employees picketed their employer, the Labor Department, yesterday. They say the department that was set up to look out for the rights of workers is shafting some of its own. The situation:

In April, the department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration advised about 26 of its Washington-based workers they would be transferred to Des Plaines, Ill., by the end of this month. The union wanted workers to have six months' notice to move.

The AFGE local at Labor went to the Federal Service Impasses Panel. It is supposed to settle in-house labor disputes in government, where strikes (ask any air traffic controller) are illegal. Pending its decisions, both parties are supposed to maintain the status quo.

The Labor Department notified workers they must move (or face dismissal), saying it never got formal notification from the FSIP that it was stepping into the case. FSIP says it alerted the department and union by telephone, and sent each a certified letter May 26 advising that no action be taken pending its ruling.

If Labor moves ahead without waiting for the FSIP to resolve the issue, the toughest thing it faces is an unfair labor practice charge (which the union would have to file). AFGE, meantime, is expected to go into court next week to seek a temporary restraining order that would block the transfers or dismissals.