Many of Metro's 1,200 nonunion white collar employes are attempting to organize a union to defend tehmselves against a new study that shows they earn substantially more money than their counterparts in the Washington area local governments.

The study was commissioned at the insistence of the local governments, who pay Metro's operating deficits from their general funds. It shows that Metro's nonunion employes -- from clerk-typists to attorneys -- make from 11 percent to 32 percent more per hour than their local-government counterparts.

For example, a fully qualified Metro attorney earns $31,889 annually, while a person holding the same job in the District of Columbia is paid $31,113 and his counterpart in Arlington County receives only $21,684.

Metro "is the highest paying major public employer in the area," Alexandria City Manager Douglas Harmon wrote Metro General Manager Theodore C. Lutz recently. Harmon was writing as the chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' chief administrative officers committee, a group that includes every city manager or chief county administrative officer in the area.

Metro should take action, Harmon wrote, to assure that, by 1982, Metro salaries are no more than 5 percent higher than the average salaries in local area governments.

For many of the Metro's nonunionized employes that would mean a freeze on salary increases over the next few years while their unionized brethren and local government colleagues receive steady increases.

"This is a nasty situation," Lutz said succinctly.

"This study compares apples to bricks," said a mik-level Metro employe who has been active in organizing a union and who asked to remain unidentified. "There is no real comparison of our jobs to those of others working downtown. The only people local government can attack at Metro are the nonrepresented employes, so we decided to start a union of our own."

As a result, Local 2 of the Office and Professional Employees International has informed Lutz that it is attempting to organize Metro's office staff. Jim Sheridan, president of Local 2, said that "we have well over the number of signatures needed" to request a representation election under the National Labor Relations Act.

Although Metro is not subject to the National Labor Relations Act, it traditionally has followed NLRB procedures.

Most of Metro's employes -- 5,500 bus drivers, subway motormen, mechanics, policemen and janitors -- already are covered by union contracts.

The question of salary comparability between Metro and local governments has become increasingly tense over recent years as the Metro operating deficit has grown from nothing to more than $100 million annually.

Metro started as a small construction agency that recruited primarily from the ranks of the federal government and maintained pay schedules generally in line with those of the federal government. As it gradually changed to a local operating agency, however, the philosophy behind that pay schedule has been increasingly questioned.

The study grew out of that questioning. A committee of personnel experts from local government and the Metro staff selected 20 job categories and attempted to compare salaries and benefits paid at Metro with those paid in the District of Columbia and Alexandria, and in Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

It was not an easy task. Each of these jurisdictions has different pay schedules, different steps within each pay grade, different methods of paying pension and other fringe benefits, etc.

Another major difference is that Metro employes work 37 1/2-hour weeks while all local governments except Alexandria expect 40-hour weeks from their employes. Therefore, an hourly comparison of salaries reflects a 6.7 percent advantage to Metro.

In the 20 jobs compared, Metro employes received the highest salaries in 15, the second-highest in three and the third-highest in two.

Lutz argued in an internal document that three Metro jobs -- construction engineer, urban planner and real estate specialist -- were unique to subway building and thus had no legitimate counterpart job in local government.

The study also showed that there are wide disparities in salaries among local jurisdictions. The annual salary for a clerk-typist, for example, is as follows: (TABLE) Alexandria(COLUMN)$7,974 Prince George's County(COLUMN)8,986 Fairfax County(COLUMN)8,995 District of Columbia(COLUMN)9,392 Arlington County(COLUMN)9,443 Montgomery County(COLUMN)9,610 Metro(COLUMN)10,368(END TABLE)

Lutz said yesterday he will probably recommend to the Metro board a 40-hour week with no pay increase for Metro employes. He has not decided, he said, whether to go along with the Harmon committee's recommendation that Metro salaries be no higher than 5 percent more than the local government average. Lutz is known to be leaning toward recommending a 10 percent differential.

The union, Sheridan said, has asked Metro for a meeting as soon as possible.