In hearings before the District of Columbia Wage-Hour Board yesterday, representatives of retailers and the Greater Washington Board of Trade reluctantly endorsed a compromise that would set the minimum wage for D.C. retail workers at $3.50 an hour--15 cents over the federal minimum.

Washington's biggest retail union also endorsed the compromise but the president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO called for a minimum wage between $3.90 and $4.00, saying the lower minimum showed "a lack of understanding" of the needs of low-wage workers.

Approximately 20 percent of the 29,000 retail workers in the District currently are paid the Federal minimum wage of $3.35 an hour. A joint industry-labor committee in April recommended raising the D.C. minimum from $2.50 an hour to $3.50. The D.C. hourly rate supercedes the federal minimum and also applies to some workers not covered by federal law.

Joslyn L. Williams, president of the Washington AFL-CIO Council, told the three-member board that a $3.50 minimum is "not sufficient to provide adequate maintenance and protect the health of an employed person."

Williams acknowledged that the recession and labor concessions may have been "in the back of the minds" of the labor representatives who endorsed the $3.50 rate. The committee was composed of three members from the public, three from retail management, and three from Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The Wage-Hour Board, which has 30 days to make a decision, is expected to approve the committee's unanimous recommendation. One board member strongly indicated his support for the $3.50 wage at the hearing yesterday, although the other two members said they would wait for the close of the public comment period before making up their minds.

Thomas McNutt, Local 400's president, said the committee might have recommended a minimum closer to $4.00 if his union had pushed it. "This was not the point in time to crowd the industry when it will only increase unemployment," said McNutt.

Woodward & Lothrop Vice Chairman Robert Mulligan, representing the Board of Trade, said the board was not opposed to an increase to $3.50. "We think that this one is reasonable. We know that we're faced with some increases," said Mulligan.