Maybe it's the nurse's whites she wears and has worn for 11 years, but Dottle Hararas doesn't look or sound much like a typical labor leader.

But she is a labor leader, and she has pulled more than 60 percent of the staff nurses off the job at the Washington Hospital Center, the area's largest private hospital, and has kept them on the picket lines since Saturday morning.

Since Saturday morning Haras has been dividing her time between on-again-off-again bargaining sessions at Federal Mediation and Conciliation headquarters at 21st and K St. NW, strike headquarters at 2405 lst St. NE and her home in Lanham.

She has worked with her overwhemingly female union of health-care professionals as they have applied the skills and discipline normally used in nursing to carefully orchestrate picketing and other strike duties.

Like the other members of the Washington Hospital Center Nurses Association, a unit of the District of Columbia Nurses Association, Hararas has had to struggle hard to settle an inner conflict over her duties to her patients and what she views as her duties to herself.

"When does my commitment to myself . . ." she started to say, interrupting herself and hesitating. "When can I care about myself? Are we saints or are we people? If we were volunteers we would put on blue smocks and volunteer. If we thought people were suffering we'd take care of them.

"This was a difficult thing for me," said Hararas, who has been a nurse or nursing student for 14 of her 31 years. "It's been a difficult transition, but it just didn't make any sense any more. There were too many inequities."

The transition from passive nurse to active union leader was more difficult, she said, because of her upbringing in "a very small town in Pennsylvania, a town of 3,000 people and 21 churches. A very conservative town. My parents always said, 'Just be glad you have a job,' a very '30s kind of thing. 'Never ask for anything.'"

Her childhood world did not include unions or union organizing.

"I didn't even know there were things like paid firemen," she said after yesterday's fruitless negotiating session with the hospital center. "I thought every fireman in the whole world was a volunteer. I didn't know what unions were."

After she came to Washington to attend Washington Hospital Center's school of nursing, she said she learned that "as you live in a city you see inequities, and you see how some people deal with it and some don't. You see where you fit in."

Hararas said she was driven to militancy by what she saw as inequities to coworkers.

"I couldn't stand it when I saw nurses fired without any recourse. I couldn't stand it when I saw my girl friend get pregant and be told she'd be terminated the day she left to have her baby. People had to realize their frustations and do something about it."

The types of incidents that upset Hararas are the same kinds of alleged grievances that are key issues on the bargaining table:

Maternity leave at the hospital center is granted at the adminstration's discretion. The union has demanded it as a right.

The union has demanded that disputes over performance ratings go to outside arbitration, and the hospital insists that "performance evaluation is solely in the hands of management and is not subject to grievance and arbitration procedures."

The union demands the right to have nurses assigned to permanant day shifts, on the basis of seniority. The hospital has refused, stating that "experienced nurses are vital on evening and night shifts and there are not enough nurses who want to work permanent night and evening shifts."

The union has demanded that all 425 nonsupervisory registered nurses at the hospital center be forced to join the union, and that they be fired if they fail to do so. The hospital has rejected the union shop demand and has said it will deduct dues for anyone who chooses to join the union.

The union wants nurses to have the right to accrue "paid days off," which are a combination of sick leave and vacation, and has demanded that the number of such days be increased. The hospital center opposes the right to collect such days, and has offered one additional day to be added to the current 29 after 10 years of employment.

Because Hararas and fellow union members are unfamiliar with unions and strikes, their union at first glance seems more than a little unorthodox.

The impression may be magnified by the general youth of the membership or that the strikers call the car that carries them from picket line to strike headquarters the "Pink Balloon Express" - making it difficult to keep in mind the nurses are, in the words of Dottie Hararas, "dead, dead serious."

That they are serious becomes apparent when it is noted that the 911-bed hospital center has only about 330 patients and George Washington Unversity Medical Center is bursting at its seems with patients who would have gone to the center.

Perhaps even more indicative of the nurses' seriousness are the words of an administration official at another are hospital: "If the nurses win this, you're talking about 500 members at 80 bucks (dues) a head, and that's a damn big war chest to organize all the other hospital."