The gray-haired maid stopped the heavy vacuum cleaner in the middle of the Sheraton Park hotel suite yesterday and began explaining - in rapid Spanish - why she and the other 6,000 hotel workers across the city deserved a raise.

"The work is very hard. I have to clean 16 rooms every day, that is, dust the furniture, wash the mirrors, wash the bathrooms, clean out the drawers, change and make the beds."#TShe makes $3.49 an hour when she works, but she works only when the hotel is full of guests. Last week she took the dawn, hour-long bus ride from her Rockville apartment only once because business at the hotel was slow. She earned $27.07 after taxes.

To get more money she is prepared to strike at midnight tonight when the three-year contract between members of Local 25 of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union and the city's 39 major hotels expires.

More than 700 union members voted Monday to authorize their leaders to call a strike if negotiations have broken down by the midnight deadline.

A block away at the Shoreham hotel another maid said the strike possibility was "terrible. I have nothing but what I'm doing. I have one $5 billin the bank . . . We'll have to go to the poorhouse to find something to eat because I'm sole support of my family."

A random survey this week of doormen, maids, waiters, waitress and housemen who arrange banquet rooms, found opponents and proponents of strike all agreeing that any walkout would be supported by all the union's workers.

Downtown at the Washington Hotel yesterday, union officials and representatives of the managements of the hotels began around-the-clock negotiations, but both sides agreed the outlook for averting a strike was dismal.

"It looks like somewhere between Friday night and Saturday morning we will be pulling them out of the hotels," said union president Cyprian Tilghman. "If there is significant movement (toward a settlement) we certainly will not pull them out, but we're so far apart it doesn't appear that will will happen."

"A gneral hotel strike would benefit no one," said Allen G. Siegel, labor counsel for the hotels and their chief negotiator. "It would damage the employes and the employers and we will make every effort to achieve some honorable solution provided the union shares in this objective."

Both Tilghman and Siegel agreed the major stumbling blocks were the amount of the wage increase and increased employe fringe benefits, including free meals for all hotel employes.

Siegel indicated that the hotels would replace striking employes in even if the union struck only one or two hotels its members would still be locked out of others. Siegel would not comment on the lockout possibility.

"You never gain anything from a strike," said a Mayflower Hotel waiter, who remembers the city's last hotel strike in 1946. "You lose wages and tips and your livelihood and the little bit they's going to give us never makes up the loss."