Raymond J. Donovan, Ronald Reagan's nominee for secretary of labor, may be unknown to national and local labor leaders, but in some ways he is no stranger to the department; he has been selected to lead.

Donovan, as executive officer of a construction firm, has known labor and the Labor Department the way most contractors do -- from facing federal inspections and investigations over the years. His company has come away with a mixed record of compliance with labor law.

The company, Schiavone Construction in New Jersey, has been inspected 49 times by the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the past six years and has drawn 135 citations for safety violations. Fifty-eight of the citations were classed as "serious" violations, where there was "a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result" from the violation, according to OSHA.

OSHA officials said this record was worse than average for a firm with more than 25 employes, but in only one case did OSHA report that Schiavone did not correct the cited violations after an inspection. OSHA officials added that only four serious accidents at Schiavone work sites were reported to OSHA in six year, a record they said is better than average.

Donovan's company was once found in violation of the Davis-Bacon Act, according to OSHA officials. That law says an employer must pay employes the prevailing wages of the locality where they are working. The Labor Department made Schiavone pay $5,500 in back pay to workers.

Still in progress is what OSHA officials called a "routine" investigation of the Schiavone company to determine whether it is violating federal laws that prohibit descrimination against women and minorities in federal contract work. The investigation has been under way for a year and a half, an OSHA spokesman said.

Donovan once was questioned by federal investigators, and Schiavone financial records were subpoenaed, in connection with a multimillion-dollar kickback scheme for which the mayor of Newark and a number of other New Jersey politicians eventually were convicted.

He was questioned in 1969, just weeks before the indicment of the Newark mayor and others, but no charges were filed against him and the matter was dropped after one interview with the U.S. attorney in Newark.

It has been reported that Donovan was called in because some Schiavone company checks were found in the dummy account of Irving Kanter, a man convicted of handling bribes between contractors and politicians.

In the kickback scheme, contractors sent checks to Kanter's account, and, after taking 5 percent, Kanter passed the bribes on to local officials. The total amount of the bribes was estimated to be several million dollars.

Reports of the interview between Donovan and the U.S. attorney quote sources as saying that the Schiavone checks amounted to such a small sum of money that they were not considered significant, and investigators could not connect the checks with the bribery scheme.

Donovan has acknowledged being called in for questioning, but added that a substantial number of other New Jersey contractors also were questioned. "We were never the target of any investigation," he said at a news conference yesterday. When asked whether payments had been made to Kanter's dummy account, Donovan replied, "I don't know the details of that . . . I don't know the answer to that."

Donovan said he would provide more information on the subject later.