ONE MONEY-SAVING proposal under study in the District Building would force city workers to take unpaid leave. About $20 million could be saved, city officials say, if every city worker took 13 days off without pay. As a last-ditch effort to save the city's budget, the leave-without-pay plan would not be a bad idea. But until it is demonstrated that there is no alternative and that the situation is acute enough to justify it, the plan seems too severe.

The arguments in favor of the plan are these: Workers will like it because it will save their jobs or those of fellow workers who would othersise have to be fired. Similarily, the unions might go along because it would save jobs. Further, workers would have to get their work done in less time, thus increasing efficiency. And with added time off, it is thought, worker morale might be boosted. Similar leave-without-pay plans have been used during times of financial trouble in New York City and elsewhere.

These arguments do not stand up to scrutiny. City labor leaders oppose the idea. Geraldine Boykin, head of the local unit of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says it amounts to firing an employee because he or she is left temporarily without any means of support. If her reaction is typical of the workers she represents in the District Building, morale among District workers is not likely to be boosted by having more time off. More important, the plan would place an unfair burden on the city's lower-paid employees. The money they would lose during a leave-without-pay period would be a far greater percentage of their salaries than would be the case for highly paid high-ranking city officials. Finally, it is unlikely that District workers who are inefficient during the time they usually work would be any more efficient because they have less time to get their work done.

The arguments for instituting the leave plan are not yet persuasive. The Barry administration should reject the idea.