Here's a more in depth explanation, but I wanted to explain this simply to myself, and anyone else who cares.
• You work in a restaurant where the employer beats you with tire irons and pays you five nickels-an-hour for your 107 hours of work every week.
• You and your fellow employees discuss unionization, so you can collectively bargain with the employer about the tire iron beatings, and other stuff.
• 98% of you want to unionize. You fill out forms ("cards") authorizing unionization.
• You go to the employer with the cards. He may, upon presentation of the cards, recognize you as a union. That's the law. That's "card check."
• He can also say F*ck you and fire your asses. That's against the law, but your employer doesn't care, and if questioned will say you were crappy employees. Who's gonna win?
• The employer can also say, "Get a petition with at least 30% of your names on it, give it to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) [a government agency], and they'll supervise a secret ballot of all the employees."
• That normally takes about six weeks.
• In the meantime he can fire a bunch of you so you can't form a union.
• Card check bypasses the *government-run* NLRB election, just to note. It's "small governmenty."
• Card check is how it worked when the NLRB was formed in the New Deal years. It made sense. It was a simple way for employees to get out from under the boot of asshole employers, who existed (and still exist) in great numbers.
• The Employee Free Choice Act makes employers recognize card check. They can't force an election. It takes some power out of employers' hands, and puts it in employees' hands. No more tire iron beatings. And better, more fair pay.
• Here's the most important part: After doing the card check thing, employees can still choose to hold a secret ballot. The EFCA does not "strip away" the secret ballot, as is being yelled by Republicans, it "strips away" the power of employers to force an election, a delaying tactic, even in cases like yours, when 98% of employees plainly want to unionize.
• That's the Employee Free Choice Act, explained.