The Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO called yesterday for a 1-cent increase in Maryland's state sales tax to help local governments cope with their financial problems without major layoffs or service cutbacks.

The labor union group, which represents about 225,000 workers, said revenue from the tax increase -- from 5 to 6 percent -- was particularly needed by Prince George's County, where voters recently rejected any increase in property taxes.

But it said a proposal by Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening for legislation to allow local governments to raise the sales tax if they wish would "create serious political problems."

"We think it has to be raised throughout the state -- with the money being turned back to the counties and cities where it's collected," said Joslyn Williams, president of the union council, after a meeting in Washington with about 40 labor leaders.

"If you make a sales tax increase local option," Williams said, "there will always be the arguement that you'll hurt local merchants. Some of the counties that need it the most won't have the guts to enact it."

The labor leaders met yesterday for a legislative conference at the Quality Inn on Capitol Hill. At a press conference afterward Williams said the group also decided to ask the D.C. City Council to allow maximum unemployment benefits to rise after a temporary cap of $206 a week expires on March 31.

He said the unions also want new local regulations for city banks, a D.C. occupational health and safety law, and a waiver from the residency requirement for new D.C. government employes to allow workers who have been fired and then rehired to come back on the payroll without moving into the District.

The waiver in the residency law would immediately benefit about 200 teachers, said William Simons, president of the Washington Teachers Union and secretary of the labor council.

Thomas Bradley, president of the Maryland State and D.C. Labor Council, said his group would also press the state legislature to rescind the increase in the maximum interest rate it enacted last year.

"I think the banks have embarrassed the attorney general, the governor, and the legislature by keeping the rates charged customers as high as they have when the prime rate has come down," Bradley declared. "It's an absolute disgrace."

Bradley said he also wanted increases in unemployment compensation benefits in Maryland, which Williams said was also an aim of the labor leaders in the Virginia legislature. Another legislative goal in Virginia, Williams said, was to make voter registration easier and more convenient.

Williams said he expected the unions' proposals to receive "a reasoned and well thought-out reaction," particularly from politicians who were elected with labor support. "We hope they will realize in life there is a quid pro quo," Williams said. "If we do not get the quid this time, naturally there will be a reaction next time around."