SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ The FBI tried to buy names of unemployed workers in the Portland area last year in hopes of tracking down fugitives, but Oregon Employment Division officials rejected the request, a newspaper reported Monday.

FBI officials said the proposal was a routine technique for catching criminals, but an employee approached at the division's office in Portland's Skid Row said she was concerned about violating the confidentiality of the agency's mostly impoverished clientele, the Salem Statesman-Journal reported in a copyright story Monday.

''I'm all for helping the police and the FBI,'' said Patti Sherman. ''But on the other hand, this is a homeless shelter where individuals come and want to feel safe. I would have felt like a spy if I sold their names. That's the most dishonest thing I personally could have done.''

Employment Division director W.E. Hunter disclosed the FBI's proposal after a division worker in Springfield was fired last month for notifying law enforcement officials that a client was wanted on a probation violation charge in Washington state.

Karen Hulsey, a 12-year veteran of the division, has appealed her firing. Hunter said she violated the division's privacy policy, which he re-emphasized after the FBI's proposal was made last year.

In October 1987, FBI agents tried to obtain lists of unemployed people visiting the state office in Portland's Skid Row. That action was part of a national FBI effort to purchase names, Social Security numbers and birth dates of clients and employees of private companies and government agencies, said James Dietz, a special agent in the FBI's Portland office.

The state agency said the FBI wanted more than lists of clients.

If the names of fugitives appeared on the lists, the FBI wanted division workers to contact the fugitives and tell them to visit the downtown office for job interviews, according to state officials. FBI agents would be waiting to arrest the job applicants.

Hunter rejected the request on the advice of his staff and an assistant state attorney general who said it could violate state privacy laws and endanger division employees.

The FBI offered to pay $2 for the name of each client and $300 to $400 for a name if it turned out to be that of a wanted felon, division officials said.

Hunter said he would be willing to release such information on a case-by- case basis.

''But they wanted more than just information,'' he said. ''This was a sting-like operation.''

During the past 20 years, the FBI has caught thousands of fugitives by feeding such information into a national computer system that checks the data against a list of about 25,000 currently wanted criminals, said Charles Mathews, the assistant special agent in charge of the Portland office.