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Cleared Donovan eager to get down to business at Labor

Labor Secretary Raymond Donovan, cleared of the multiple charges against him, is being urged by many in the Reagan administration and by Republicans in Congress to seek a fresh start with organized labor.

Given a new vote of confidence by President Reagan, after a special federal prosecutor reported finding ''insufficient credible evidence'' to support charges against him of links to organized crime, the secretary has settled down for the first time in months to his Cabinet responsibilities.

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''President Reagan, once and for all, made it clear that I am his secretary of labor,'' Donovan says. ''I intend to remain in that post as long as he and I feel that I am productive. . . .''

But can Secretary Donovan function effectively after the heavy attacks on him? And is he too much of a political liability for the GOP at a time when labor votes must be courted?

Donovan sees his record as that of a good labor secretary. He lists accomplishments that include (1) revising the Davis-Bacon Act's prevailing wage rules to ease building costs, (2) easing affirmative-action rules of federal contractors, (3) drafting a low-cost job training bill to replace the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, and (4) reining in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to cut employer costs. All were opposed by labor.

''I am realistic enough to know that my reputation has been besmirched,'' he says. But, he adds, he now intends to ''get on with the business of helping the President turn the county around'' - from its economic doldrums that include 9.5 percent unemployment, failing basic industries, and growing foreign trade problems.

''I can now complete the job I was asked to do,'' he says.

But Donovan is not the big barrier between the administration and unions. Labor concedes that he has only followed White House orders and adhered to its policies in taking the positions that have alienated him from the AFL-CIO and most independent unions.

Labor faults him for failing to argue union causes more strongly - and effectively - in the administration. Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, indicated how labor feels about Donovan, when he was asked about relations with the secretary. ''What secretary of labor?'' he replied.

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So far in the Reagan administration, there has been almost no communication between Donovan and organized labor. If Mr. Kirkland has anything to relay to the administration now, he is likely to do it through Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige - ''the one guy on the domestic side that Lane Kirkland talks to these days,'' according to an AFL-CIO spokesman - or occasionally through Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis.

To ease the situation, Donovan is being urged to ''build bridges'' to the AFL-CIO and unions generally, through more personal contact with them and more aggressive leadership in the administration on matters involving workers and the unemployed. One Labor Department subordinate says, ''The secretary has an opportunity to improve his relations with unions. We hope he will.'' Others in the administration agree that it would be possible ''without giving away the store,'' particularly on such issues as new pension and workers' compensation laws and on efforts to bolster the unemployment insurance system.

It is by no means certain that improved relations between the Donovan and labor leaders would bring political benefits to the administration and Republicans this November and in 1984, but with the GOP losing ground among blue-collar workers, party political advisers want the effort made.

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