White collar federal workers could lose their biggest, most influential ally -- the U.S. military establishment -- if Congress okays a separate pay hike for people in uniform.

Senate leaders have scheduled a vote this week on a 3.4 percent military hike. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1. The military-only raise would be in addition to the 7 percent civilian and military personnel got last October.

The retroactive military raise is in response to distress calls from service chiefs. They are having troubles getting enough volunteers, and keeping experienced personnel because of pay. By contract the civilian side of government has a long line of applicants, sometimes as many as 90 qualified seekers for most nonclerical jobs.

Until now the 1.2 million white collar government workers (300,000 of them in metro Washington) have gotten the same percentage raises, at the same time as the military. But feds could suffer with Congress, the White House and the public, if military people go their own way. In times of trouble -- and that is now -- people who usually sneer at the military tend to find a strong Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps nice things to have around.

Recent presidents have shaved government catch-up-with-industry raises. They might be inclined to shave closer if only bureaucrats -- not the military -- got nicked.

In fact President Carter's pay reform plan calls for separate military and civilian federal pay setting. Government union types aren't crazy about the idea. They realize the military alliance helps more than it hurts.

White collar federal workers have never had an easy time getting big raises out of Congress or the White House since postal workers went into their own pay system. The well-organized, politically militant postal unions did much of the fighting for pay raises with the military supplying its own lobby, and putting smiles on the faces of patriotic members of Congress.

Now that postal workers bargain for themselves, they have been getting much bigger, better pay settlements than their white collar colleagues. If the military is allowed to fend for itself, civilian federal workers could find themselves very much alone when pay raises are passed out.