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America West CEO Mum on Merger Talks

Based on the questions at the annual meeting, some shareholders and workers are worried.
Author:

Please don't ask.

That's what

America West Holdings'

(AWA)

CEO told shareholders and employees regarding a potential merger of the company with

US Airways

(UAIRQ)

.

Last month America West and US Airways acknowledged they held merger discussions. Since then, the companies have been mum, but media reports this week said

talks were advancing, with the two airlines close to a deal.

Before opening up the floor to questions at America West's annual shareholders' meeting, CEO Doug Parker told attendees he wouldn't be able to discuss the topic and had nothing to announce.

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"We try very hard to be extremely candid and open, but in regard to what I think most of you want to talk about, I'm just going to have to say almost nothing," Parker said.

But that didn't prevent a flurry of questions in a gathering that turned contentious at times.

One individual stockholder, who claimed to own more than 60,000 shares, said Parker's refusal to discuss the potential merger smacked of arrogance toward shareholders. He also questioned what would happen to America West's employees.

Parker countered that there was nothing to announce yet and expressed his own concern for employees. Everything the airline did was aimed at ensuring what's best for employees in the long run, he said.

The angry shareholder said, "We're paying you ... If Trump was here, you know what he'd say to you."

Employees also stepped up to the microphone to question a potential merger.

A woman who said she was an America West gate agent and shareholder asked Parker to pay attention to the airline's employees and make sure they wouldn't lose their jobs to US Airways' workers. "Seniority is a real issue," she said. "There are a lot of us who are really concerned."

Analysts say America West may be looking to a merger as a solution to its worsening cash position. US Airways, meanwhile, is struggling to emerge from Chapter 11 protection. Like other U.S. airlines, both carriers are dealing with historically high fuel costs and fierce price competition.

Various parties are believed to be interested in providing financing to a merged company. The Retirement System of Alabama and

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

are among possible backers, according to published reports.