Lewis joined the company in 1969 when it was North Carolina National Bank, operating solely in that state. By the time he became CEO, the bank was the third largest in the country, with branches in 20 states and 190 countries, thanks in part to his plan, which stressed opening branches rather than acquiring outside companies.
His supporters credit him with keeping the bank liquid and are confident he can steer the bank through the storm of the recession. Lewis has repeatedly said the bank would not need to be nationalized. At a speech to CEOs in Boston on Thursday, Lewis called nationalization a "nightmare" and said he strongly agreed with SEC Chairman Ben Bernanke that "nationalization is not necessary to stabilize the banking system."
But some shareholders are wary of Lewis' bullish comments on the economy's health and accuse him of lying to Congress and shareholders about the Merrill deal. They are particularly angry about the last-minute payout of $3.6 billion in bonuses to Merrill executives.
Those investors, including a group that represents the Teamsters and six other labor unions, accuse Lewis of abrogating his fiduciary responsibility and want to see him fired.
They have lambasted Lewis for making unwise investments and accuse him of lying to shareholders and displaying the worst in corporate excess. Last week, Lewis arrived in New York aboard a $50 million corporate jet to answer questions from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo about the $3.6 billion in bonuses Merrill Lynch gave its executives just before Bank of America acquired the company.
Change to Win Investment Group manages 33 million Bank of America shares, or about one half of one percent of the bank's stock, for the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union and other trade groups.
In a letter last week to the bank's lead director, O. Temple Sloan, Change to Win called on the bank's board to "immediately seek the resignation of chairman and CEO Ken Lewis."
"Lewis has made disastrous decisions in the past five months," Change to Win spokesman Rich Clayton told ABC News.com.
The investment group holds Lewis responsible for allowing Merrill to pay the $3.6 billion in bonuses just before the deal was done, failing to disclose more than $20 billion in pre-tax losses and failing to protect shareholders from those losses.
"Lewis failed to put shareholders first and he failed to be honest," Clayton said.
Silvestri would not comment on Change to Win's request, but both Lewis and the bank's board of directors have previously said the CEO is not going anywhere -- at least for another two years.
Coming off one of the worst weeks on Wall Street, Lewis and other bank leaders have launched a public relations offensive to calm national fears about the economy.
In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Lewis acknowledged that asking the federal government for $20 billion to help pay for Merrill Lynch was a "tactical mistake" because it made the bank appear weak.
In the March 2 interview, Lewis gave his first hint of when he might leave the company, vowing to stay on as CEO until the bank paid back the $45 billion in taxpayer aid it received through the Treasury department. He estimated that it would take two to three years.
Miller, the analyst, doubted Lewis would last that long
"I don't think they'll pay back the government in two years," he said. "I think it will be difficult for him to stick around."